Many people think of shoplifting as a harmless offense. After all, most businesses build in the cost of a certain amount of “shrink” when pricing items for sale. Quite a few young people may flirt with danger in their teen years by pocketing items or otherwise trying to take them out of stores without paying for them. It’s important that you realize that neither store owners nor the courts will take such a tolerant view of shoplifting if someone gets caught in the act.
Far too many young people start their adult lives at a disadvantage due to teenage mistakes. Shoplifting even once could result in a criminal record and difficulty getting into college or finding a good job. Knowing what counts as shoplifting and how New Jersey penalizes this offense can help you determine the best way forward if you or someone you love has to deal with pending shoplifting charges.
Shoplifting is more than just sneaking an item out of a store
Contrary to popular belief, the legal definition of shoplifting is much more broad than simply hiding an item and leaving the store. Certainly, items snuck into backpacks, purses, pockets and clothing count as shoplifted merchandise. However, there are many other actions that can also result in potential shoplifting charges, called retail fraud charges.
People also commit shoplifting when they remove or alter a price tag on an item. Similarly, switching price tags with a cheaper item is illegal. Placing an item into a container or another item you are buying, like a pair of shoes, is shoplifting, too.
The penalties depend on the value of the items stolen
The good news here is that first time shoplifters walking out with an item worth a few dollars will receive the lowest possible penalties for a shoplifting offense. These cases are typically handled by municipal court. Items worth less than $200 result in a disorderly persons offense, which carries up to six months in jail and a fine of as much as $1,000.
The person will also have to complete 10 days of community service upon conviction for a first offense. A second offense carries 15 days of community service, which increases to 25 for third or subsequent offenses. Anyone convicted of three or more minor shoplifting offenses will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days.
For those accused of shoplifting items valued at between $200 but not more than $500 will face a fourth degree charge. This offense can result in up to 18 months in jail and a fine of as much as $10,000. For items worth more than $500 but less then $75,000, the offense is a crime of the third degree, which could result in between three and five years in jail and a fine of $15,000.