New Jersey Shoplifting Offense
Criminal Defense Attorney and Former Prosecutor
Although the term "shoplifting" frequently invokes images of youngsters stealing bubblegum and candy from the local convenience store, in reality, the offense carries with it heavy penalties. Those arrested for shoplifting in New Jersey face charges ranging from a disorderly persons offense up to an indictment for a second degree crime, and requires a lawyer in our judgment. Every attorney at The Law Offices of John F. Marshall is prepared to defend you against these serious accusations. Our law firm handles shoplifting cases statewide including in Monmouth County, Hudson County, Union County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Mercer County, and Bergen County. Do not let an inexperienced lawyer handle your case. John F. Marshall is a former prosecutor in New Jersey, and the attorneys at our Law Firm will insure that your interests are protected every step of the way. Contact us today for a free consultation.
New Jersey Shoplifting Law
The law is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11, and reads in pertinent part:
b. Shoplifting. Shoplifting shall consist of any one or more of the following acts:
(1) For any person purposely to take possession of, carry away, transfer or cause to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise or converting the same to the use of such person without paying to the merchant the full retail value thereof.
(2) For any person purposely to conceal upon his person or otherwise any merchandise offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the processes, use or benefit of such merchandise or converting the same to the use of such person without paying to the merchant the value thereof.
(3) For any person purposely to alter, transfer or remove any label, price tag or marking indicia of value or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment and to attempt to purchase such merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than the full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of all or some part of the value thereof.
(4) For any person purposely to transfer any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail merchandise establishment from the container in or on which the same shall be displayed to any other container with intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the retail value thereof.
(5) For any person purposely to under-ring with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value thereof.
(6) For any person purposely to remove a shopping cart from the premises of a store or other retail mercantile establishment without the consent of the merchant given at the time of such removal with the intention of permanently depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such cart.
Shoplifting Law in a Nutshell
What is Shoplifting?
Subsection b. of the statute specifies the various acts that constitute a shoplifting offense. It is worth noting that an individual can only be penalized for this offense of he/she acted with purpose, meaning that there must be some intent on the part of the defendant to take without paying. However, the state can meet its burden of proof by showing that the defendant purposefully concealed the merchandise, which is prima facie evidence of the intent to permanently deprive. Nonetheless, this intent requirement often provides fertile ground for defense strategies. A person has committed a shoplifting offense if he/she, (1) takes or carries away merchandise offered for sale, (2) hides or conceals merchandise, (3) switches or alters price tags, (4) transfers goods from one container to another, (5) under-rings at the register, or (6) removes a shopping cart from the store. Most commonly, an individual is detained prior to leaving the establishment and accused of hiding or concealing merchandise. A law enforcement office may detain a shop lifting suspect for a reasonable period of time and in a reasonable manner upon having probable cause to believe that the suspect "willfully concealed unpurchased merchandise." Additionally, the officer must believe that "he can recover the merchandise by taking the person into custody." Whether or not the detention was reasonable is a determination to be made by the court. If the court finds that the officer effectuating the detention did not act reasonably, criminal and/or civil charges may result. A lawyer from our NJ law firm will make sure that the prosecution meets its burden of proof and, if he does not, that the case is dismissed and/or downgraded.
Mandatory Jail and Mandatory Community Service Penalties
The shoplifting statute mandates community service for a first offense, second offense and third offense. For the first offense, the defendant must perform 10 days of community service. For the second offense, fifteen days of community service, and for the third or subsequent offense, a maximum of twenty five days may be imposed. More importantly, if you have had the misfortune of being convicted on two previous occasions for shoplifting, and are found guilty of a third offense, you will be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of 3 months jail time. It is important to keep in mind however, that an accused could be exposed to jail on a first offense or second offense if an indictable shoplifting offense is involved. If someone is indicted for a fourth degree, third degree, or higher offense, than the sentencing and jail provisions under the indictable criminal code will apply. Given the consequences associated with accumulating shoplifting convictions, and the jail involved with indictable offenses, it is of utmost importance that you hire a criminal defense attorney who can help you avoid the many pitfalls that surround this area of the law. Each and every lawyer at the Law Offices of John F. Marshall are experienced in handling shoplifting charges in NJ including Monmouth County, Hudson County, Union County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Mercer County, and Bergen County.
Gradation and Aggregation of New Jersey Shoplifting Offenses
As a preliminary matter, it is important to understand that shoplifting, like many other theft offenses, is subject to gradation. Grading differences are primarily determined by the amounts involved, and the defendant will be penalized accordingly. The grading of offenses is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11. If the full retail value of the items stolen is $75,000 or more, it is a second degree offense. It is a Third Degree Offense if the value involved is between $500 and $75,000. If the value involved is between $200 and $500, it is Fourth Degree Offense. If the goods are worth less than $200, a disorderly person offense has been committed. We have provided a Grading of Offense page which will more specifically outline the penalties involved.
Additionally, the law allows for the aggregation of amounts in shoplifting cases. This means that the prosecutor may take the full value of the items stolen and charge the defendant with a serious, often indictable, criminal offense. An example of this is the "continuing course of conduct" fact pattern. For instance, if an individual is arrested for shoplifting items from four different stores at the mall during the course of the same afternoon, the prosecutor will likely add together the retail value of all the items to determine the grade of offense. Each incident of shoplifting may have yielded merchandise worth less than $200, constituting a disorderly persons offense. However, since the violations were committed in furtherance of a scheme or course of conduct, the amounts may be aggregated and a crime of the Third Degree will likely result, carrying with it a possible prison term of three to five years. It is imperative that an individual retain a knowledgeable lawyer to insure that the state does not improperly grade or aggregate offenses.
Moreover, if several persons acting together steal merchandise in furtherance of an organized retail theft enterprise, the statute allows the prosecutor to charge each individual as if they were responsible for all of the thefts. In other words, Jim, Bob, and Sam agree that they will go to Bigmart and steal merchandise and sell it at a garage sale they plan to have next week. Jim steals a $150 coat, Bob takes a $500 game system, and Sam tries to get out the door with a $3000 big screen television. Sam is quickly apprehended and discloses his affiliation with his accomplices, who are shortly thereafter taken into custody. All three defendants will face an indictment for a Third Degree Offense because the total amount of the merchandise exceeds $500 dollars, but is less than $75,000.
Possessing/Using Antishoplifting Countermeasure is a Disorderly Persons Offense
Examples of an antishoplifting countermeasures are devices that demagnetize antishoplifting security measures, devices that change the bar code on merchandise price tags, and any other implements whose purpose is to subvert antishoplifting countermeasures. If found guilty of this offense, the defendant will be convicted of a disorderly persons offense, and the charge will be disposed of in the appropriate municipal court.
If you have been charged with Shoplifting and are in need of a lawyer, please contact our criminal defense law firm with any questions and arrange for a free consultation. We have a criminal defense attorney to handle these cases anywhere in NJ including Union County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Hudson County and Mercer County. Call our Law Offices today and speak with one of our attorneys, who will be happy to answer your questions and schedule your free consultation. You may also consider consulting NJ Shoplifting Defense Attorneys for a more detailed discussion of the law associated with shoplifting offenses.