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Shoplifting Penalties in New Jersey – A Guide for Defendants

Shoplifting is a common offense in New Jersey that can lead to serious criminal penalties if convicted. This article provides an overview of shoplifting laws and potential consequences in New Jersey, as well as possible defenses that a skilled criminal defense attorney may use to fight the charges.

Understanding Shoplifting Charges in New Jersey

New Jersey defines shoplifting as the intentional theft of merchandise from a retail establishment. There are several ways shoplifting can occur:

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  • Concealing merchandise on one’s person or belongings with intent to steal
  • Altering price tags or barcodes to pay less than the actual price
  • Returning stolen merchandise for a refund or store credit
  • Working with a cashier to deliberately under-ring purchases
  • Using devices to disable anti-theft tags or sensors
  • Simply leaving the store without paying for merchandise in a shopping cart

Shoplifting is charged as a crime in New Jersey based on the full retail value of the stolen merchandise. The more valuable the goods, the more serious the criminal penalties.

Penalties for Shoplifting in New Jersey

Shoplifting penalties in New Jersey depend on the total value of the items stolen:

  • Under $200 – This is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
  • $200 to $500 – A 4th degree shoplifting charge, punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a fine up to $10,000.
  • $500 to $75,000 – A 3rd degree charge, punishable by 3-5 years in prison and a fine up to $15,000.
  • Over $75,000 – A 2nd degree charge, punishable by 5-10 years in prison and a fine up to $150,000.

In addition to fines and jail time, a criminal record can negatively impact education, employment, housing, and other aspects of a defendant’s life.

Aggravating Factors

Certain circumstances can increase shoplifting penalties in New Jersey:

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  • Participating in an organized retail theft enterprise
  • Shoplifting while on commercial or private property during a state of emergency
  • Prior shoplifting convictions (2 or more)

These factors can raise charges to a higher degree with harsher potential penalties.

Juvenile Shoplifting

For defendants under 18, shoplifting charges are typically handled in juvenile court. The goal is rehabilitation rather than strict punishment. However, penalties can still include:

  • Counseling, community service, or educational programs
  • Restitution to the victim
  • Probation or detention in a juvenile facility

Completing all requirements of a diversion program can lead to dismissal of the charges.

Civil Liability

In addition to criminal charges, New Jersey merchants can pursue civil penalties against shoplifters which include:

  • Damages for stolen merchandise up to $500
  • Recovery of damages caused during the theft
  • Civil penalty of $150 to $500

These civil demands are separate from any criminal prosecution.

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Possible Defenses Against Shoplifting Charges

While shoplifting charges should always be taken seriously, there are defenses an experienced criminal defense lawyer may use to fight the allegations:

  • Lack of intent – If there’s doubt the defendant knowingly and purposefully planned to steal merchandise.
  • Mistaken identity – When evidence shows the defendant could not have been the shoplifter.
  • Duress – If the act was committed under threat from another party.
  • Consent – If store personnel gave permission to take the item.
  • Procedural errors – Such as illegal search & seizure or Miranda violations.
  • Unlawful detention – When the merchant had no right to detain the defendant.
  • Mental health issues – Which may negate criminal intent.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the prosecution’s case and identify the best defense strategy to fight shoplifting allegations. They can also negotiate with prosecutors for reduced charges or pretrial diversion programs that could lead to dismissal.

Takeaway on Shoplifting Charges in NJ

  • Shoplifting is a serious offense that can result in fines, jail time, and a permanent criminal record.
  • Penalties depend on the full retail value of merchandise stolen.
  • Aggravating factors can increase potential penalties.
  • Juveniles may have options like diversion programs.
  • Merchants can pursue additional civil damages.
  • An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate defenses and negotiation options.

Anyone charged with shoplifting in New Jersey should consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can protect your rights, build the strongest defense, and help mitigate penalties – including the possibility of avoiding a criminal conviction. Don’t wait to act if you or a loved one is facing shoplifting charges in New Jersey.

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