Shoplifting

In terms of a shoplifting case, concealment is evidence of intent to steal. According to statute 2C:20-11, if a store owner finds his merchandise hidden on your person the law presumes you to be purposely concealing the merchandise and having the intent to shoplift. However, what if this is a mistake? Let’s say you have your hands full at the supermarket, maybe a screaming child in one arm and a huge bag of groceries in the other. You don’t have enough room in your arms for another item you need, so you decide to put it in your pocket and take it out when you reach the register. However, you forget about this item, and as you leave the store the storeowner glimpses the item protruding from your pocket, accuses you of shoplifting, and calls the police. You are then arrested for shoplifting. Is this an unfair arrest?

According to New Jersey law, this constitutes shoplifting. If you are discovered to have merchandise hidden on your person, you can be arrested for shoplifting. Even if you do not leave the store you can be charged because of the presumption written in the statute. According to State v. Evans, a woman who walked out of a store with a hair bow in her hair which she didn’t pay for and forgot to take off was arrested for shoplifting, even though she bought almost $600 worth of clothing and the hair bow was only worth $12 and she offered to pay for it after she was discovered.

However, in some cases shoplifting charges are dismissed under the de minimus statute. This means that if the sum of the items stolen is a very small amount, the court can dismiss it based on the triviality of the crime. State v. Smith, supra,195 N.J.Super. 468, 480 A.2d 236, indicated that it is permissible to take into account individual characteristics such as criminal history in analyzing triviality. If you have no record and offer reasonable proof that you did not intend to steal then most likely you will have the charges dropped. However, it is better to make sure that you do not have any merchandise hidden on your person as that can lead to an arrest and prosecution.

Shoplifting may seem like a petty crime, but it is taken very seriously in New Jersey. In fact, a 2000 Amendment made shoplifting a more serious offense than theft. An offense under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11 can cause the loss of a job, deportation, difficulty obtaining another job, a criminal record and, if the full retail value of the items in question is high enough, possible jail time. Full retail value is the price of the merchandise determined by the merchant.

Shoplifting is defined by six different kinds of offenses:

  1. Any person purposely taking possession and removing any merchandise on sale or display with the intent of not paying full retail value to the merchant.
  2. Any person purposely concealing merchandise offered for sale with the intent of not paying full retail value.
  3. Any person purposely removing, switching, or altering a price tag or any other markings which determine full retail value of the items in question and attempting to purchase such merchandise personally or with aid of another at less than full retail value.
  4. Any person purposely moving items from one container to another with the intent of paying less than full retail value.
  5. Any person under-ringing with the purpose of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the items in question. Under-ringing is defined as a cashier recording on the cash register a price lower than the full retail value of the item and either charging the customer the lower price or charging at full retail value and pocketing the difference.
  6. Any person purposely removing a shopping cart from a store with the intent of not returning it.

The most important aspect of this crime is the intent to shoplift. A person must be purposely trying to steal or reduce the value of an item in order for it to be defined as shoplifting. However, any person purposely concealing unpurchased items will be presumed to have the intent of shoplifting the items in question, and any person hiding items from sight of the merchant on or off the premises of the store will be presumed to be purposely concealing the items in question. This is prima facie evidence which means this evidence is enough to prove intent and prove the case, and that the defendant must prove his innocence rather than the prosecutor proving his guilt. This can lead to unfair arrests and convictions because if someone conceals an item on your person without your knowledge and it is discovered, you are presumed to be shoplifting those items.

If you are facing shoplifting charges, it is important to contact an experienced criminal lawyer because the consequences may be very severe. The consequences of shoplifting are categorized under second, third, fourth, and disorderly persons offenses. If the full retail value of the stolen merchandise is $75,000 or more, it is considered a second degree offense and is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to ten years and/or a maximum fine of $150,000. A third degree offense is if the value of the merchandise lies between $500 and $75,000, and is punishable by three to five years in prison and/or a maximum fine of $15,000. If the value of the merchandise lies between $200 and $500 then it is considered a fourth degree offense, punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 18 months and/or a maximum fine of $10,000. If the retail value of the merchandise is less than $200, it is a Disorderly Persons offense, punishable by up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Keep in mind that the values of all of the merchandise in question are added together to determine the seriousness of the offense, and if the shoplifting was committed in conjunction with an organized group of shoplifters, exceeding $1,000 in stolen goods will earn a second degree charge, and any less will earn a third degree charge. However, a good criminal defense lawyer can downgrade a fourth degree offense, or even a third degree offense if the total value stolen merchandise did not exceed $2,000 and there are trial proof issues, to a disorderly persons offense.

Additionally, after a first offense, a mandatory ten days of community service is required. After a second offense, 15 days is required and after a third offense, a maximum of 25 days of community service and a minimum of 90 days in prison is required. However, these do not apply to juveniles.

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