Somerset County Shoplifting Lawyer

One very nuanced and often misunderstood portion of the New Jersey criminal code is the charge of shoplifting. People often ask: Why was I accused of shoplifting? I never even took the item from the store.

An experienced Somerset County shoplifting lawyer can explain how shoplifting charges work. They guide clients through the entire criminal justice system from arrangement, to pre-trial hearings, through potential trial.

Being accused of any crime can be a confusing and frightening experience. A criminal attorney in Somerset County can help to answer questions about shoplifting charges, what the potential penalties are, and how they can work with clients toward positive outcomes.

Defining the Charge

The concept of shoplifting as a crime is many-layered and complex. Most people understand that if an individual takes an item from a store without paying for it, it is considered shoplifting. However, New Jersey has broadened their definition of shoplifting to include:

  • Concealing an item with the intent to hide it from store workers.
  • Changing price tags from item to item, or altering a price tag to show a lesser amount.
  • Moving items between displays in a store in an attempt to pass off one item as a different one.
  • When a person under-rings an item with the intent to not pay full price.
  • Removing a shopping cart from the store’s property.

The full text of this law can be found at New Jersey Statute 2C:20-11. As an individual can see, it is not necessary to remove an item from a store to be accused of shoplifting.

Taking any action to hide merchandise or swapping labels with the intent to steal the item counts as shoplifting. A knowledgeable shoplifting lawyer in Somerset County can will understand these nuances and work with people to better understand the nature of any charges.

Potential Consequences

New Jersey takes shoplifting very seriously. A conviction of shoplifting, even for a small dollar amount, can result in significant jail time.

In addition, any shoplifting conviction has an attached requirement of a minimum of 10 days’ community service. Subsequent offenses, meaning more than three convictions of shoplifting, carry a required minimum jail term of 90 days.

Individual cases are given a severity based on the dollar amount of the items alleged to have been shoplifted. New Jersey Statute 2C:20-11, subsection (c) lists this scale. For Example:

  • The most severe penalty, a crime of the 2nd degree, occurs upon a guilty finding of shoplifting in an amount over $75,000, or if committed as a part of a criminal enterprise, $1,000.
  • If the item is valued at under $75,000 but over $500, or is committed as a part of a criminal enterprise at a value under $1,000, the crime is of the 3rd degree.
  • A 4th degree crime occurs when the value of the item is above $200 but under $500
  • Lastly, any shoplifting conviction of a monetary value less than $200.00 is considered to be a disorderly persons’ offense.

An important aspect of this is that the degree of the charge is based on the total retail value of the items alleged to have been shoplifted. For example, if a person is alleged to have shoplifted three purses worth $400 each, the crime is classified as third-degree since the total value of the items is $1,200.

The most serious of these charges, a second-degree crime, carries a potential of 5 to 10 years in prison.

The least serious, a disorderly person offense, defined in New Jersey Statute 2C:43-8, carries a maximum sentence of up to six months in jail. More information about how New Jersey classifies degrees of crimes and their attached potential penalties can be found in NJ Statute 2C:43-6. Further, an experienced Somerset County shoplifting lawyer can explain such nuances.

Benefit of an Attorney

Any conviction, even a minor shoplifting one, remains on a person’s criminal record. As discussed above, a third conviction for shoplifting, regardless of the value of the item stolen, requires 90 days in jail.

If a person is alleged to have hidden merchandise, in their coat for example, without actually taking anything from the store, they can still be charged with shoplifting.

In such an instance, a seasoned Somerset County shoplifting attorney understands that the prosecutor will need to demonstrate intent to hide the item for the purpose of removing it from the store.

When analyzing a person’s case, a shoplifting lawyer in Somerset County examines all the evidence, including witness statements and any security footage. Do not take any unnecessary chances, contact a lawyer today.