Freehold criminal defense attorney Leon Matchin provides quality representation to individuals charged with shoplifting. Our offices concentrate only on criminal defense, giving each case the attention it deserves. Before speaking to security or law enforcement personnel, contact an experienced attorney with over 10 years of experience defending residents in the Municipal and Superior Courts of Mercer, Monmouth, and Middlesex Counties, as well as in other local areas.
Shoplifting is governed by Title 2C, section 20-11 of New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11. Under current law, shoplifting is graded and punished based on the retail value of the merchandise allegedly taken. The offense requires intent to deprive the merchant of the possession, use, benefit, or partial value of the merchandise through any one of the following acts:
- Taking hold, carrying away, or transferring merchandise for sale
- Hiding, concealing, or converting merchandise without paying
- Altering, transferring, or removing any labels indicating value
- Deactivating any anti-shoplifting or inventory control device
- Personally trying or conspiring to pay less than retail value
- Transferring from display or storage to another container
- Charging less or under-ringing merchandise at register
- Removing shopping cart without consent from store
“Merchandise” means any type of personal property, including foods and goods, regardless of their value. “Full retail value” (FRV) is the price at which these things sold. Any “person,” including store employees, can be prosecuted for shoplifting. Making merchandise “invisible” to ordinary observation is sufficient evidence of the intent to permanently deprive.
DEGREES OF SHOPLIFTING
New Jersey law grades shoplifting based on the item’s FRV. The seriousness of the offense increases inversely to degree. A crime in the second degree, for example, is more serious than one in the fourth degree and consequently carries stiffer penalties. N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(1). In order for shoplifting to rise above the fourth degree, the FRV at issue must be between $500 and $75,000 or exceed $75,000. But the prosecution may add items to charge a more serious offense. Even if individually small, the total value of merchandise taken from many stores can quickly add up.
FOURTH DEGREE DISORDERLY PERSONS
N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(3) makes shoplifting a fourth degree offense if the FRV is between $200 and $500. If the FRV is less than $200, it is treated as a “disorderly persons” offense. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11c(4), shoplifting may be “downgraded” to a lesser offense or qualify for a less severe penalty unless it involves a third or subsequent fourth degree offense. The difference in grade is substantial. Fourth degree shoplifting has a maximum sentence of 18 months and $10,000 in fines. A “disorderly persons” offense halves the sentence and caps the fine at $1,000. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3c.
DOWNGRADING TO DISORDERLY PERSONS
In addition to grade, punishment also depends upon the person’s criminal history. A first offense, for example, requires at least 10 days of community service while a third can require up to 25, in addition to imprisonment. Further, shoplifting generally cannot be downgraded to “disorderly persons” offenses except under the following criteria:
- Second degree offenses can never be downgraded
- Third degree: FRV less than $2,000 and trial proof issues
- Fourth degree: at prosecutor’s discretion; however, not possible if
- Repeat offender with three or more shoplifting convictions
A person cannot be punished unless the prosecution proves intent to take merchandise without paying. The help of an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical to preventing the improper gradation or aggregation of crimes. Representation can also drastically reduce criminal exposure to imprisonment and fines through suspended sentencing, community service, and supervised release.
DEFENDING YOUR RIGHTS
If you have been charged with shoplifting, Marlboro criminal defense lawyer Leon Matchin can help. Mr. Matchin has helped numerous clients downgrade charges to fourth degree or “disorderly persons” offenses, or get charges dropped entirely. With an expansive knowledge of New Jersey law, his guidance can make the difference between indictment and dismissal. Call (732) 662-7658 for a free consultation or contact us online.