Shoplifting, also known as retail theft, is a serious crime and a conviction can have severe implications. The crime can be generally defined as taking merchandise with the intent of not paying for it or of paying less than its retail price. More specific instances of shoplifting include the following acts:
- Hiding the item underneath clothing.
- Altering or transferring a price tag with the intention of paying less than the actual price.
- Placing a smaller item into a larger container with another item and paying only for one.
- Simply walking out of a store with items in a bag or shopping cart and not intending to pay for them.
If charged with retail theft under any circumstance, retaining a criminal defense lawyer is essential to understanding your legal options and rights.
Degrees of Shoplifting
There are different degrees of shoplifting in New Jersey depending
upon the value of the item stolen.
If the full retail value is under $200, a defendant may face imprisonment for up to 6 months and a $1,000 fine. There are mandatory penalties of at least 10 days of community service on a first offense, at least 15 days on a second, and up to 25 days for any subsequent offense in conjunction with imprisonment of at least 90 days.
If the full retail value is between $200 and $500, imprisonment can be up to 18 months with a maximum fine of $10,000.
If the full retail value is over $500 but less than $75,000, the defendant faces incarceration of 3 to 5 years and a $15,000 fine.
If the full retail value exceeds $75,000, the offender faces imprisonment of 5 to 10 years and a fine up to $150,000 along with the mandatory penalties.
A shoplifter can risk having the charge upgraded to a robbery if they use any force in stealing the item. This includes shoving or knocking down a security officer or store employee who is trying to apprehend them. Robbery is a second degree crime carrying a possible jail sentence of 5 to 10 years with the defendant having to serve 85 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. If you are armed during the robbery, the charge is upgraded to a first degree offense and the potential jail sentence is 10 to 20 years with the defendant having to serve 85 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
A security guard, police officer, or merchant employee must have probable cause to believe that a theft has occurred before they can arrest or detain an alleged shoplifter within the store. They must act in a just manner, without using excess force, and keep the individual for a reasonable amount of time.
An employee, security guard, or police officer can be criminally and civilly liable if they do not follow these guidelines.
If Arrested or Detained
Being detained or held on suspicion of shoplifting is a nerve-wracking experience, yet it is imperative that in these moments you remain calm. If you are approached by a security guard or store employee who requests that you come with them, do not run or use any force against them. Peacefully proceed to the area where they will be detaining you.
Do not give a statement to anyone and do not admit to anything regardless of what is promised to you. If a security officer or police officer is detaining you, ask to speak to an attorney.
Defenses and Alternatives
Anyone charged with a shoplifting offense should obtain the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Often shoplifting charges can be downgraded if the offense is relatively minor.
If the offender is charged with a fourth or third degree offense, and they have no previous criminal record, admission into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program can result in the dismissal of the charge if the individual enters and successfully completes the program and has no further offenses during the period of their probation.
Shoplifting offenses require a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A guard or store employee who detains a shopper before they have left the store or left the cash register or who did not actually observe the individual attempt to hide anything or switch price tags, may be subject to criminal liability.
Shoplifting is a criminal offense that can seriously jeopardize an individual’s employment status, chances of finding employment, immigration status, and ability to obtain credit.
Do not go to court until you have consulted with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can explain all your legal options, possible downgrading of the offense, or other defenses and alternatives in your particular situation.