For many, shoplifting is their first crime. Sometimes, the temptation to take a “five finger discount” overcomes better judgment and leads us to steal. Shop owners and store security may let you off with a warning. However, many teens and adults alike are arrested for shoplifting. Depending on the value of what you stole, shoplifting may be a relatively low-level crime. You may even be able to have your first offense cleared from your criminal record, or avoid the record altogether.
If you were charged with a first time shoplifting charge in South Jersey, talk to one of our attorneys. The Atlantic City shoplifting defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych help defendants fight their charges or accept alternative penalties through the pretrial intervention program or the juvenile justice system.
Shoplifting Charges in New Jersey
Any time you steal merchandise from a store, it may be considered shoplifting instead of another theft offense. Stealing something else, like money from the cash register, could be a more serious crime. Shoplifting can be accomplished six different ways under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-11(b):
- Taking any merchandise away from a store without paying for it;
- Hiding merchandise on your person with the intent to steal it (even if you don’t leave the store);
- Changing a price tag to avoid paying full price;
- Putting merchandise into a different box/container to avoid paying full price;
- Purposely inputting a lower price at checkout; or
- Stealing a shopping cart.
Shoplifting can be charged as different levels of crime depending on the value of the stolen property. These different levels break down as follows:
- Shoplifting is a disorderly persons offense if the items are worth under $200.
- Shoplifting is a fourth degree crime if the items are worth between $200 and $500.
- Shoplifting is a third degree crime if the items are worth between $500 and $75,000, or if the items are worth under $1,000 and were taken as part of a retail theft ring.
- Shoplifting is a second degree crime if the items are worth over $75,000, or if the items are worth over $1,000 and were taken as part of a retail theft ring.
These levels of crime carry the following punishments:
- A disorderly persons offense is punished with up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- A fourth degree crime is punished with up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- A third degree crime is punished with 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- A second degree crime is punished with 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.
First Time Shoplifting Penalties
If your shoplifting charge is your first crime ever, you may be able to reduce the charges. Most first-time shoplifters steal low-value items or electronics. If you stole less than $200 worth of items, you should be charged with a disorderly persons offense. This means you may be eligible for the Pretrial Intervention Program (known as “PTI”).
PTI allows low-level offenders to avoid a conviction for their offense if they participate in community service, crime education, and other required classes and activities. This process is only available for adults who are charged with low-level crime and have no previous convictions. You only get to use PTI one time, so if you previously applied to PTI for low-level charges, you may be ineligible. Successfully completing the program means all charges are dismissed and you have no criminal record. An attorney can help you navigate this program and its applications.
If you are a juvenile (under 18 years old), you may face different punishments for shoplifting. Even for more severe shoplifting (e.g. of items worth more than $200). Rather than facing your criminal charges in the criminal justice system, you may face charges in the juvenile justice system. This program aims to help juvenile offenders prevent further crime, and give them tools to succeed without crime. This may still include forms of punishment, including time in juvenile detention facilities, community service, and monitoring. However, it can usually help juvenile offenders avoid jail or prison time.
The State of New Jersey also has guidelines for how prosecutors should handle shoplifting charges. Under certain circumstances, shoplifting charges may be downgraded to lower-level disorderly persons offenses. As long as the offense is a first or second shoplifting offense, the prosecutor may be willing to downgrade a fourth degree crime of shoplifting to a disorderly persons offense. This means that a first offense where less than $500 of merchandise was taken may be reduced to a disorderly persons offense.
Atlantic City Shoplifting Attorney
Having an attorney on your side can help convince a judge or prosecutor to reduce your charges or penalties, or help you get into diversionary programs to avoid jail time and a criminal record. For a free consultation on your first offense shoplifting charges, contact the Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych. To setup a free consultation with one of our criminal defense lawyers, call (609) 616-4956 today.