Q & A: Shoplifting in NJ

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Q: Can I Get My Shoplifting Charge Dismissed?

A: Yes. Although rare, your shoplifting charges can be dismissed outright.  In order for this to happen, your criminal defense attorney may file a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the charge was merely a de minimis offense (i.e. NJSA 2C:2-11). This means that your conduct was too small and trivial to warrant a full trial and did not rise to the level warranting the charge.  Additionally, if store employees and security guards fail to appear at your hearing, you will be able to ask for a dismissal. Most of the time, the judge will adjourn the case. However, if the employees do not show up a second time, there is a good chance that you can get your case dismissed.

Q: What Can I Get My Shoplifting Charge Downgraded to?

A: If you are a first-time offender being charged with shoplifting in New Jersey, you can try to have the crime downgraded to merely a violation of a municipal ordinance. If you are convicted of violating a municipal ordinance, you will not go to jail, your fine will be less expensive, and you will not usually receive a criminal record. Also, a municipal ordinance can be expunged after 2 years while you would have to wait 5 years if convicted of shoplifting.

Q: I Was Charged With Shoplifting, What Will Happen to Me on My Court Date?

A: Your very first court appearance is called an arraignment. You will be asked to enter your plea before the judge. Usually, in NJ shoplifting cases, you will be entering your plea before a municipal court judge. (However, if the goods in question were valued at more than $200, you may have to appear inCountyCriminal Court.) If you have not been able to negotiate a plea with the prosecutor, you will have to plead no guilty. It is highly recommended that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you every step of the way.

Q: What Must the Prosecutor Prove in Order to Convict Me of Shoplifting?

A:  In order for the prosecutor to establish a strong case for shoplifting in NJ, he must successfully prove that you:

  • Were seen approaching merchandise
  • selected the merchandise
  • concealed, carried away, or converted the merchandise
  • were in continuous observation by the merchant or another witness
  • failed to pay for the merchandise
  • were approached by the merchant or a security officer outside the store 

Q: Can I be Charged with Shoplifting Even if I Did Not Take Merchandise?

A: Technically, yes.New Jersey recognizes five different forms of shoplifting:

  1. Purposefully Taking Merchandise
  2. Concealment of Merchandise
  3. Altering or Transferring a Price Tag
  4. Transferring Merchandise to Another Container
  5. Under-Ringing of Merchandise 

This means that in any of these five scenarios, whether you walk out of the store with merchandise or not, you can be charged with and convicted of shoplifting.

Q: What Happens if I Accidentally Walked Out of the Store With an Item?

A: In this situation, it would not be shoplifting. Since all five recognized modes of shoplifting involve some level of intent to deprive the owner of either the property or the value of the property, simply forgetting that you had an item in your hands cannot truly count. However, if the surrounding circumstances indicated that you had intent, you may end up facing charges (e.g. realizing you had the goods, but not walking back into the store to return them). The upshot of this is when an innocent person accidentally walks out of the store with something he did not even intend to walk out with and is apprehended by security officers. In a case like this, we may feel as though we must prove our innocence more so than rely on the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” Therefore, to avoid even this situation, make sure that you are ever-cognizant of what you have in your hands when you leave a store.




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