Swiping a pack of gum from the corner gas station or a T-shirt from a big-box retailer might seem benign compared to other property crimes or violent confrontations. But shoplifting is a serious offense in New Jersey. It can steal your freedom and driving privileges, then pile up expensive fines and court costs.

More shopkeepers are using surveillance cameras and deploying undercover security agents to detect shoplifters and mitigate financial losses. New Jersey law allows store employees to detain anyone they believe has taken merchandise without purchasing it “in a reasonable manner for not more than a reasonable time.”

Being accused of stealing, however, is far different from being convicted of the crime.

Degrees and consequences

It is important to know your rights as a defendant, how shoplifting is enforced, what circumstances can impact your case and potential penalties. The state statute defines shoplifting in degrees based on the full retail value of the property in question. Expensive items carry stiffer penalties:

  • Second degree: A value of $75,000 or more with a prison sentence of five to 10 years.
  • Third degree: Value exceeds $500 but is less than $75,000 with a prison sentence of three to five years.
  • Fourth degree: Value of at least $200 but not more than $500 with a prison sentence of up to 18 months.

If the merchandise is worth less than $200, you could be charged with disorderly conduct, which essentially is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. Prosecutors also have the discretion to charge shoplifting based on the full value of the merchandise if you are suspected of stealing more than one item.

Other sentencing options

Repeat offenders face more incarceration. Three or more shoplifting convictions carry a mandatory 90-day sentence. Moreover, if found guilty of participating in an “organized retail theft ring” in which multiple people conspire to steal merchandise, you could face anywhere from three to 10 years in prison.

You can fight shoplifting charges to either get them dismissed or reduced to avoid a prison sentence. Community service and counseling might be an option if you are a first-time offender who satisfies the conditions a judge imposes.

Do not go it alone. Shoplifting has heavy consequences that can cause long-lasting damage to your personal and professional standing in the community. Consult with experienced defense attorney Anthony Palumbo. Schedule a free consultation by calling 908-643-6801 or email the firm.