Theft related to shoplifting is a nationally widespread problem among retail stores, and it accounts for billions of dollars in lost merchandise each year. According to New Jersey shoplifting laws, any person who purposefully conceals merchandise for which he hasn’t paid is presumed to have done so with the intent of leaving the premises and depriving the merchant of monetary compensation. Additionally, shoplifting charges can be brought against any person who removes or alters a price label with the intent of purchasing a product for lesser than its full retail value, or for transferring goods of a higher value to the packaging of another item of lesser value. In these cases, not only can a person be charged with shoplifting, he can also be charged with theft, a serious criminal offense that can permanently besmirch one’s personal record and be cause for prison time, community service and monetary restitution.
In the state of New Jersey, shoplifting-related theft charges vary according to the valuation of stolen property. A disorderly persons charge, the least offensive of theft charges, is a misdemeanor under New Jersey law. It applies for stolen items valued under $200 and comes with a maximum 6-month jail sentence. A fourth degree theft charge for property valued at $200 to $500 is a felony crime and has a maximum 18-month jail sentence. A third degree theft charge for property valued at $500 to $75,000 is a felony crime and is punishable by up to 5 years in jail. A second degree felony theft charge for property valued over $75,000 can be cause for a maximum of 10 years jail time.
In addition to prison confinement, a person convicted of shoplifting can also be court ordered to pay fines of up to $150,000. Likewise, depending on whether or not it’s a person’s first or subsequent shoplifting offense, he will be required to complete 10 to 25 days of mandatory community service.
Although a merchant might be reluctant to detain or even bring charges against a person he suspects of shoplifting for fear of negative repercussions, New Jersey law protects store owners from criminal or civil liability if there is probable cause for an arrest. Furthermore, those convicted of shoplifting-related theft may be ordered to pay restitution to the merchant in order to cover costs for stolen or damaged property, as well as attorney’s fees and court costs.
Shoplifting should not be regarded as a petty crime. In reality, the consequences of shoplifting can be significant and tarnish a person’s personal and professional reputation. Because any criminal record can hinder employment opportunities, legal counsel should be always be considered. Lawyers can often handle theft charges discreetly to minimize public embarrassment and may even be able to reduce the charge to a lesser degree.