There’s no way anyone can see what you’re doing, right? You glance around to make sure. Maybe it’s expensive designer clothing, electronics, phone cards, allergy medication, jewelry, cosmetics, a pack of smokes, diapers, or baby formula… Your heart is beating fast, but this is easy, you think to yourself. You’re past the cash registers, and nearing the exit. You’re almost home free! That’s when you hear him. A loud, stern voice. “Excuse me, stop right there, we need to speak to you.” Your heart sinks… You know they’re talking to you. You turn around, and see two store security guards. “Can I help you?” You stammer, trying to seem nonchalant. “Would you come with us please.” They aren’t actually asking. “What is this about?” You lie, knowing very well what it’s about. In that instant you desperately regret your actions, because you’ve just gotten caught shoplifting…
As a New Jersey criminal defense attorney I have defended hundreds of clients charged with Shoplifting (2C:20-11). I also previously served as a private prosecutor, retained by Costco Wholesale, specifically to prosecute shoplifting incidents that occurred in their stores, all over the state. As a result of all that experience, I know all aspects of a shoplifting prosecution and defense. Like many theft offenses, the seriousness, or grading of shoplifting is frequently determined by the dollar value of the item or items taken. The penalties for shoplifting in New Jersey can vary depending on whether this is your first offense for shoplifting, or have prior convictions. If the retail value of the item(s) is under $200, the offense will be charged as a disorderly persons offense, which has a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail, and a $,1000 fine. Additionally, per an Act promulgated by the Attorney General’s Office, a first offense also requires a mandatory 10 days of community service. As the dollar value of the item(s) goes up, the grading of the charge becomes more serious. If the dollar value is over $200 but less than $500, the crime may be charged as a fourth degree offense. If the dollar value is more than $500, but less than $75,000, the offense will be charged as third degree. Second degree shoplifting is the most serious, and is brought if the value of the merchandise is $75,000 or more. The Act sets forth guidelines incorporated into the statute, which impose 15 days of community service for a second offense, and a mandatory minimum 90 days in county jail for a third or subsequent offense. Of course, if the grading of the offense is more serious than disorderly persons, and a person has a prior record for shoplifting or anything else, a judge may sentence a person for longer than 90 days, and may even contemplate state prison depending on the circumstances.
Most people want to know what to expect if they’ve been caught shoplifting. Merchants, large and small, take this very seriously. It is estimated that theft costs retailers $10 billion annually. Further, business must absorb the financial costs of increased security. Ultimately, consumers pay the price as retailers increase the price of goods to cover their losses. The front line defense against shoplifting, is for stores to adopt a strong anti-theft policy. This takes the form of not cutting shoplifters a break when they get caught. As a defense attorney in new jersey, I can tell you these cases get prosecuted to the fullest extent, and get little sympathy from judges and prosecutors. The outcome of a shoplifting charge can be difficult to predict, and depends greatly on the details of a persons specific case. For this reason, it is imperative to consult with a shoplifting attorney as soon as possible. Even though shoplifting cases are tough, they can be defended. Circumstances vary from case to case, as does the quality of evidence, so whether you feel you’ve made a mistake, or whether you feel you’ve been unjustly accused, remember, DO NOT make any statements or admissions, and DO NOT sign any papers. Wait, and allow a quality criminal attorney to assess your situation, and help you to make some very important decisions.