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Shoplifting is no longer a minor offense in New Jersey. The value of goods stolen as a result of retail theft in America is estimated to be $36 billion a year. Paramus, New Jersey, for example, has the largest dollar amount of retail sales of any ZIP Code in America and the highest number of thefts of any municipality in Bergen County. As a result of huge amount of losses suffered by retailers because of shoplifting, shoplifting is cited as a major factor in retail bankruptcies. Not surprisingly, merchants in New Jersey are well aware of the risks to their businesses posed by shoplifters and have successfully lobbied state legislatures for stiffer laws.

shoplifting Has Become a Serious Crime in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, shoplifting used to be a disorderly persons offense (a misdemeanor), prosecuted in Municipal Court. Incarceration, when it occurred at all, was capped at six months in the county jail, even for repeat offenders.

That changed dramatically in 2000 when the shoplifting statute was amended to grade shoplifting as a very serious crime depending on the amount stolen.

Then, in 2006, the New Jersey legislature created a new crime targeting the leaders of retail theft enterprises-for example, a person who brings shoplifters to a store with the plan to sell the merchandise they steal. The law now recognizes that some shoplifters are part of criminal gangs targeting stores and the new statute is used to prosecute individuals who conspire to organize, supervise or finance such shoplifting rings.

The Penalties for shoplifting in New Jersey Can Involve Significant Jail Time.

Here's how shoplifters are sentenced under current New Jersey law:

(A) If a person shoplifts merchandise valued at $75,000 or more

(Or the shoplifting furthered an organized retail theft enterprise and the

merchandise is worth $1,000 or more) then the crime is a second degree indictable crime (a felony) and the penalty can be 5 to 10 years in prison.

(B) If a person shoplifts merchandise valued between $500 and $75,000

(Or the shoplifting furthered an organized retail theft enterprise and the merchandise is worth less than $1,000) then the crime is a third degree indictable crime (a felony) and the penalty can be 3 to 5 years in prison.

(C) If a person shoplifts merchandise valued between $200 and $500, the crime is a fourth degree indictable crime (a felony) and the penalty can be up to 18 months in prison.

(D) If a person shoplifts merchandise valued at less than $200, then he or she has committed a disorderly persons offense (a misdemeanor) and can receive up to 6 months in jail. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(1)-(4).

But that's not all. In addition to imprisonment, first offenders must perform 10 days of community service, second offenders at least 15 days of community service, and third or subsequent offenders a maximum of 25 days of community service. And, any person convicted of a third or subsequent shoplifting offense must serve a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than 90 days regardless of the amount of the theft.

As you can see, if you or someone you know is caught shoplifting, even an item that isn't worth a great deal, you would be foolhardy to go to court without a qualified criminal defense lawyer.

For someone accused of being a leader of a retail theft enterprise, it is much worse. Even if the enterprise did not earn a single penny of profit, the charge is a second degree indictable crime (a felony) and, in addition to prison time, the court may impose a fine up to $250,000 or five times the retail value of the merchandise seized at the time of the arrest, whichever is greater. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11.2.

What is shoplifting?

That question may strike many people as odd. Isn't shoplifting simply taking goods from a store without paying? Yes, but that's not all. The shoplifting statute lists several other acts that it defines as shoplifting. Among them are: concealing items on the person; converting an item to one's own use (such as eating food taken from a supermarket display); altering a price tag; and transferring merchandise into a container marked with a lower price. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11b.

A shoplifting Charge Can Evolve into an Even More Serious Crime by Using

Force or Eluding the Police.

Shoplifters often feel like they will never be caught. Or, they think if they are caught they can either run out of the store and jump in a car, or shove past the security guard and flee the store. These actions at best won't help-and at worst can have disastrous legal consequences for the shoplifter.

Shoplifters who push aside guards or salesclerks or cashiers, or use any other force on them, or even threaten to use force may also have committed a robbery, a second degree crime (a felony). This is true even if the victim was not injured at all. N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a. So, someone who shoplifts an item worth a few dollars can end up in extremely serious trouble if he panics and, for example, tries to struggle away from a security guard.

Shoplifters who flee from stores with the police in pursuit are likely to also be charged with eluding arrest. The shoplifter who steals a trivial item and tries to escape the police in his car can end up charged with a second degree indictable crime (a felony) if the flight creates a risk of injury to another person. N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2b.

What Can be Done to Avoid the Harsh Penalties Associated with shoplifting in New Jersey?

The strict penalties associated with shoplifting and retailers' strong financial interest in prosecuting shoplifters can make a resolution of a shoplifting charge complicated. Oftentimes, however, an experienced shoplifting lawyer can point out the weaknesses in the prosecution's case and can negotiate a diversion program , a reduced charge or sometimes even a complete dismissal. Sometimes a trial is necessary, in which case an experienced criminal defense attorney can be invaluable.

If you have been charged with shoplifting, the experienced shoplifting attorneys at the Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC would welcome your inquiries. We have helped many people through the procedure and if you contact us immediately, an experienced shoplifting defense lawyer from our office will do their best to ensure that your case is handled properly and promptly. To contact a criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC, call (201) 574-7919 or send us an email.

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