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The State of Shoplifting


Shoplifting has become a very wide-spread problem in the State of New Jersey, as well as the country as a whole. As technology has grown, companies have a greater ability to tackle the problem of what is called “unknown shrink” – but with that also comes a greater cost to prevent what is happening. Ever wonder why prices just suddenly rise for some items when there is no shortage or production problems?  These statistics illustrate just how large a problem shoplifting is.

  • More than $13 Billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year. If you break that number down by the days in a year, it works out to be over $35 million per day throughout the country.
  • There are approximately 27 million shoplifters country-wide.  Bringing it to a more local level, imagine that 1 in every 11 people in the state of New Jersey has shoplifted. You may know at least 2 people and never really thought about it.
  • Shoplifting affects more than the company:  It overburdens courts and police, it raises store security expenses, and it causes lost sales tax revenue. Companies recoup their losses by passing the cost on to consumers by raising prices.
  • There is no general profile of a shoplifter, and they will steal from any place they can – department stores, specialty shops, supermarkets, drug stores, music stores, convenience and even thrift shops.
  • Shoplifters buy and steal in the same visit, as little as $2 or as much as $200 each time. The real reward is not the items that were stolen but instead the “rush” of getting away with it.
  • Habitual shoplifters steal approximately 1.6 times per week – over 83 times a year!

In New Jersey, what acts are counted as shoplifting?

  1. Taking away merchandise with the intention of paying less than the full price to the merchant.
  2. Hiding merchandise on your body or something you’re carrying with the intention of not paying for it.
  3. Removing, altering, or transferring a price tag with the intention of paying less than the full price to the merchant.
  4. Transferring merchandise from the container in which it’s displayed to another container with the intention of paying less than the full price to the merchant (for example, putting a small item inside a large item and only paying for the larger item).
  5. Under-ringing with the intention of paying less than the full price to the merchant.
  6. Removing a shopping cart with the intention of not returning it.

What happens if you are caught and charged?

*Disorderly Persons Offense: In New Jersey, Shoplifting falls under this category if the full retail value of the merchandise was less than $200. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(4). This is punishable by up to 6 months in jail (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-8), a fine not to exceed $1,000 or both (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3c), and is usually tried at the Municipal Court level.

*4th Degree Shoplifting: If the full retail value of merchandise was at least $200 but does not exceed $500. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(3). This is punishable with imprisonment of a term not greater than 18 months. (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6a(4)), a fine of up to $10,000 or both (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2b(2)).

*3rd Degree Shoplifting: If the full retail value of the merchandise was at least $500.00 but does not exceed $75,000.00. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(2). This is punishable by imprisonment of 3 to 5 years (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6a(3)), a fine not to exceed $15,000.00, or both (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3b(1)).

*2nd Degree shoplifting: If the full retail value of the Merchandise was $75,000.00 or more. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(1).  This is punishable by a term of imprisonment of 5 to 10 years (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6a(2)), a fine not to exceed $150,000.00, or both (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3a(2)).

*Additional mandatory penalties are: First offense; at least ten days community service. Second offense; at least 15 days community service. Third and subsequent offenses; a maximum of 25 days community service and a minimum of not less than 90 days in jail.  N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(4).

Unlike a Disorderly Persons Offense (full retail value of the merchandise was under $200.00) that is generally negotiated at the Municipal Court level, shoplifting cases from 4th Degree to 2nd Degree are tried in Superior Courts. New Jersey has had to set up and developed new guidelines for shoplifting because of how common an occurrence shoplifting has become, and because of the toll it has taken on companies.

It is possible to downgrade a 4th Degree Offense to a Disorderly Persons Offense, at which point the case would be remanded to the Municipal Court; however, it is only at the discretion of the County Prosecutor.  The offense shall not be downgraded if it is the 3rd or subsequent offense.  3rd Degree Offenses may be downgraded and remanded to Municipal Court if and only if there are trial proof errors.

Now you’ve handled the criminal charges against you for shoplifting.  Just when you think it’s all over, in addition to the criminal charges, it is common for stores to hire a civil attorney to send a civil penalty in the mail. The problem is this – you pay the penalty thinking you are paying a fine and are done. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. This is where you may need a lawyer to help you once again. If you pay this fine, you just might have brought yourself more trouble.  If you don’t go in protected, you can end up not only paying for the loss of the property and the fines the State assessed criminal court, but the victim’s legal fees and other loss of income associated with the shoplifting. Picking the right lawyer can make things much easier and also at the end of it less costly.

Let’s take a moment and think. Was that $4 nail polish you took at the Bridgewater Mall really worth all this?  What about that Blue-Ray/DVD player from Costco in North Plainfield that you had in a box under the cart where the cashier wasn’t paying attention? Was the scarf from that boutique in Westfield equal to having a criminal record that could cost you a good job with a livable income?

Everybody makes mistakes. If you’ve been caught shoplifting, be sure to protect your future by hiring an attorney who can get the best possible outcome. James A. Abate, Esq. has resolved numerous cases in Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Morris, Essex and Middlesex Counties, and will provide you with expert legal counsel and advice to help you navigate through the seemingly endless process.

Get your questions answered – call me for your free, 20 min phone consultation (908) 210-9755

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