How Is Shoplifting Classified in New Jersey?
Most questions in life can only be answered with the phrase “it depends”.
Are you going to marry your girlfriend? It depends on how she responds when I propose. Will my investment in the stock market yield dividends (profits)? It depends on whether your stocks rise or fall. Will my father’s health improve? It depends on how his body responds to chemotherapy.
For the most part, the law is the same as life. Legal questions are best answered with qualifying phrases such as, “it depends”. I always caution all of my readers to be wary of any attorney who insists on guaranteeing a result. There are few certainties in life, e.g., our mortality, the laws of physics (gravity), man’s inability to control the weather etc.
Few things are certain, and fewer things are guaranteed. Guaranteed results in the legal industry should serve as red flags that you may not be dealing with an ethical attorney.
My advice: Run out of an attorney’s office who guarantees a result!
LET’S RETURN TO THE QUESTION IN THE TITLE:
IS SHOPLIFTING A MISDEMEANOR IN NEW JERSEY?
The only way to answer this question properly is with the phrase “it depends”. The grading of a criminal offense is the first concept that must be explained. Grading is a way of classifying criminal conduct. Look at the Pain Scale below.
At one end of the scale, you have a happy face representing a patient who feels no pain. At the opposite end, you have a severe frowning face because the patient is in a world of pain. In the middle, you can find a patient with moderate pain, such as a backache. Now let’s use this pain scale to understand New Jersey’s Criminal Grading system.
Crimes are always committed against the State of New Jersey. Yes, there are always human victims involved, but without getting into a theoretical, four-hour, philosophical explanation, just accept the premise that all crimes are committed against the State. In other words, the State of New Jersey is the victim. If you look at all Grand Jury Indictments and Criminal Complaints, you will find The State of New Jersey versus XYZ, OR, The People of the State of New Jersey versus XYZ. It is the State which prosecutes each case.
Let’s move on so I can better answer your specific Shoplifting question. Let’s say you commit an act that results in little to moderate “pain” to the State. Let’s say that your conduct rises to the level of a two or three on our scale. You’re in the light blue to dark green zone. We’ll assume that you gently, yet offensively, slapped the State in the face (Simple Assault). The grading (degree of punishment) of your behavior will be commensurate (appropriate) to your actions. With the exception of New Jersey Diversionary Programs, e.g., Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), Conditional Discharge, Drug Court, Conditional Dismissal etc., you will be exposed to fines and/or incarceration in jail or prison.
Now a Simple Assault in New Jersey is considered a Disorderly Person’s Offense and carries up to six months in jail, a one-thousand dollar fine and other costs/penalties. Thus, the New Jersey legislature decided that the pain you caused to the State (a two or three) may result in minimal incarceration and minimal fines. What if the pain you caused to the State is in the red zone? Let’s say you are accused of Attempted Murder.
Under New Jersey 2C;5-4, Attempted Murder is considered a crime of the first degree. You are all the way in the red zone. You tried to kill and failed, but the State is livid. In terms of pain, you are an excruciating, malignant tumor and the State considers you an extreme danger to its well-being. The punishment for you in this scenario will be decades of incarceration or even a life sentence. I hesitate to say it, but once again, even the punishment depends on aggravating and mitigating factors. These concepts will be discussed in a separate article.
Now, is Shoplifting a Misdemeanor in New Jersey? I need more information.
What degree of pain did your shoplifting cause to the state?
YOUR shoplifting CHARGES, penalties AND available defenses WILL INEVITABLY VARY DEPENDING ON A NUMBER OF FACTORS. MAYBE YOUR FRIENDS DARED YOU TO shoplift somechewing gum (25 cent value) BUT YOU GOT CAUGHT. UNFORTUNATELY, PEER PRESSURE IS NOT A DEFENSE to a shoplifting charge in New Jersey. However, the value of the merchandise was de minimis and may not merit prosecution.
Let's ask relevant Shoplifting questions:
What was the value of that which you are accused of boosting (Shoplifting)?
Have you ever been convicted of Shoplifting?
Are you a kleptomaniac who gets a high from clipping things?
Have you ever been convicted of anything? Anywhere in the USA?
If you have been convicted of Shoplifting, how many times have you been convicted?
(As provided under 2C:20-11 C (4), “any person convicted of a third or subsequent offense shall serve a minimum term of imprisonment of not less than 90 days”. The State considers you a sufficient danger (or pain) to society to impose a Mandatory ninety-day jail sentence.)
What if you have a completely clean record, yet are accused of Shoplifting merchandise with a full retail value exceeding seventy-five thousand dollars? You would be facing a Second-Degree charge.
If the facts surrounding your arrest don’t support a New Jersey Shoplifting charge, then you may be facing a different theft offense.
Do you notice all of these conditional (if, then) statements? IF THIS, THEN THAT. If you did X, then you may be facing Z. Answers to questions will depend on the facts specific to your case.
Remember: Facts make cases.
By the way, the word “depend” has its roots in 15th century French. It means: “to be attached to as a condition or cause.” In French, “dependere” literally means to “hang from”. Check it out: www.etymonline.com/word/depend.
What if you are facing your third Shoplifting charge, with a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 90 days, but the State’s case is weak? Does the State offer a phenomenal deal? Do we take the deal or do we take the case to trial? What do you have to lose?
What If your only choice is to either plead guilty or go trial? why not put up a fight? A guilty plea will result in an automatic, mandatory, minimum sentence of ninety days in jail, so why not go down swinging? Remember how this article started? I discussed the unpredictability of life, didn’t I? I stated it in the positive, “There are few certainties in life”.
In other words, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
The same holds true for criminal trials. I’ve been involved in trials where the State’s key witnesses didn’t show up. I've had situations where the Prosecutor wasn’t on his game that day and my client got lucky. There have been times when the State’s witnesses actually show up for trial but on Direct and Cross-examination their memory failed them or their credibility was weak. I’ve defended clients in Shoplifting trials where the State failed to prove every element of the offense.
In one trial, the surveillance footage the State entered into evidence favored the defendant. The video showed my client grabbing a box from a shelf but the client never opened the box. The box contained additional merchandise which someone else had put there. She was a mother of three, with a clean record, the Court was not persuaded that she was guilty of Shoplifting. Most of the time, however, the Prosecutor is fully prepared with his witnesses, the evidence, and successfully proves every element of the offense Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
IN CLOSING, IF YOU'RE CHARGED WITH ShopliftingIN NEW JERSEY, DON'T TRY TO ANSWER ALL OF THESE CONDITIONAL STATEMENTS ALONE.
SEEK THE REPRESENTATION OF A NEW JERSEY CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY.
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Hackensack, Bergen County, NJ.