As you walk into your favorite retail outlet, you notice a young person standing at the entrance with a placard stating “I SHOPLIFTED FROM THIS STORE.” You can’t help but chuckle and shake your head. Welcome to New Jersey. With some of the toughest shoplifting laws in the country, shoplifting in New Jersey can cost you more than you first imagined.
First and foremost, shoplifting is the act of taking merchandise without intending to pay full retail value, altering the price or removing a shopping cart without intending to return it. The key factor to New Jersey’s shoplifting laws is the intention of leaving a store with an article by paying less than full market value. By stating the law this way, it includes any attempt to intentionally defraud the store by any means.
Store employees, security guards and police officers in New Jersey have the right to detain an individual who is believed to have committed a shoplifting crime. They may ask the individual to return with them to the store, to a security area. Staff have the right to detain a person by reasonable means if the shoplifter attempts to strike them or run away. Reasonable force in this case is “force enough to restrain them, but not escalate the situation.” As soon as an individual is detained for shoplifting, the police need to be notified. The police prefer that all necessary paperwork is complete upon arrival. If the shoplifter is not able to be detained, take as much information as possible on height, weight, hair color, clothing and vehicle description to give to the police.
Once a shoplifter is caught in New Jersey they are faced with fines and possible incarceration according to the full retail value of the item they have stolen. Punishments are divided into four groups. Keep in mind however, that if a group is working together to shoplift from a store, the merchandise value is the total of all the items shoplifted and will be prosecuted according to that amount.
Disorderly persons offense- Convicted of having stolen merchandise under a $200.00 value. Fines are not to exceed $1,000.00 and a term of imprisonment of no more than six months.
4th Degree- Convicted of having stolen merchandise between a $200.00 and $500.00 value. Fines are not to exceed $10,000.00 and a term of imprisonment of no more than eighteen months. This charge can be downgraded to a disorderly persons offense at the discretion of the prosecutor unless it is the third or subsequent shoplifting charge.
3rd Degree- Convicted of having stolen merchandise between a $500.00 and $75,000.00 value. Fines are not to exceed $15,000.00 and a term of imprisonment of no more than 3-5 years. Charge cannot be downgraded.
2nd Degree- Convicted of having stolen merchandise with a value above $75,000.00. Fines are not to exceed $150,000.00 and a term of imprisonment of no more than 5-10 years. Charge cannot be downgraded.
In addition to the court fines a mandatory penalty of community service of 10 days for the first offense; 15 days for the second offense; a maximum of 25 days and no less than 90 days of imprisonment for third and subsequent offenses. The prosecutor can ask the court to order that restitution be paid, but any further action by the merchandiser will have to be taken to civil court. In civil court a shoplifter can be ordered to pay fines, attorney fees and court costs to the merchandiser.
To be caught shoplifting in New Jersey can cost you far more than purchasing the item outright. According to National Shoplifting Prevention Organization, 80 percent of people caught shoplifting do not realize the potential financial and incarceration penalties. If you ever consider shoplifting, remember the person serving their community service by wearing the placard walking back and forth in front of your favorite New Jersey outlet.