Shop lifting is a serious problem that results in $19 billion dollars of lost revenue for retailers each year, retailers reporting revenue losses of $35 million daily. A conviction for a shoplifting offense in New Jersey carries with it both civil and criminal penalties. While New Jersey Statutes are clear in defining what constitutes a criminal shoplifting charge the consequences of a conviction are not as finite.
New Jersey Statute. 2C: 20-11b(1) outlines mandated penalties for crimes of shoplifting based on a “grading system”. The severity of the consequence is primarily dependant on the full monetary value of the stolen goods. In the end, the financial burdens may outweigh the value of the stolen goods themselves. If the total value of the stolen goods were under $500.00 the criminal case will be heard in Municipal Court and charged as a Disorderly Persons Offense. Thefts valued at $500.00 and above are heard in the State’s Superior Court and tried as felony level offenses. In some cases, if the value of stolen items did not exceed $2,000 and it is a first time offense, the case may be plead to a lesser charge and heard within the Municipal Court system.
The penalties affiliated with a shoplifting conviction are steep. The financial obligations exceed repaying the retailer for their loss. Mandated penalties include community service, possible incarceration, probable restitution, contributing a minimum $50.00 charge to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, a $75.00 charge to the Safe Neighborhood Services fund, as well as court costs and if probation is ordered there is a $25.00 monthly supervision cost. Additionally, if convicted on a felony level charge the Judge may require the defendant to submit DNA and order the cost to be paid by the defendant.
Along with this, a person convicted of shoplifting will subsequently have a criminal record. This may become a barrier to employment and housing, even disqualification from State and Federal grant programs, and creditors. A shoplifting conviction cannot be expunged from a person’s record for 5-10 years
Retailers may seek financial recovery of stolen or damaged merchandise through either the criminal or civil courts. In the criminal proceedings, once a guilty plea is entered, the Prosecutor may ask the judge to order restitution. It is not the Prosecutors position to act or negotiate on behalf of the retailer. Only a judge may order restitution be paid. If granted, a restitution order will allow the retailers to recoup the total value of the lost goods, as well as consider reasonable expenses incurred by the retailer for lost wages and expenses that relative to the case, however it will not order the defendant to pay additional expenses to the retailer such as attorney’s fees.
Should the retailer opt to pursue the case in civil court; measures to resolve the matter prior to filing an action with the civil court must be taken. First, the retailer establishes a letter to the defendant, known as a “civil demand” requesting a settlement amount and sends it to the defendants last known address providing the defendant with 20 days to respond. If the matter is resolved with the retailer no civil action can be pursued. However, is no contact is made between the defendant and the retailer to remedy the matter, the next course of action is to file a civil claim with the appropriate court.
If the value of stolen goods does not exceed $2,000 the claim may be filed with the Municipal Court, however in cases where the accumulative loss exceeds that amount retailers must file with New Jersey’s Superior Court. Civil litigation will allow the retailer to request the full value of lost property, expenses incurred by the retailer due to the investigation and proceedings, as well as request the defendant to pay attorney fees and court costs. In addition to this, the court will mandate the defendant pay $150.00 civil penalty.