I represented a client this week who was charged with shoplifting in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11. The value of the merchandise was less than $200 which means the shoplifting charge was graded as a “DP”, disorderly persons offense, in New Jersey. The maximum sentence permitted for a disorderly persons offense is six (6) months in the county jail. Moreover, there is mandatory community service (ten (10) days) if you are convicted of a shoplifting offense in New Jersey (first time offender). Subsequent offenders face enhanced penalties for community service and jail time.
Shoplifting can be graded as a second degree, third degree, fourth degree, or disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, depending on the value of the goods allegedly stolen. If the amount if $75,000.00 or more, this will be graded as a second degree crime. If the goods are valued at more than $500.00 but less than $75,000.00, this is a third degree crime. If the value of the goods is between $200 and $500, this will be graded as a fourth degree crime in New Jersey. Finally, if the value of the goods is less than $200, this is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey.
Second degree, third degree, and fourth degree crimes must all be handled at the Superior Court or county level. The county prosecutor’s office will then review the case and either keep it or downgrade the charges and send it back to the Municipal Court. For example, if you are charged with stealing $220.00, you will be charged with a fourth degree crime in New Jersey. However, it is highly likely that the Prosecutor’s Office in the County in which you are charged will review the charges and downgrade the fourth degree crime to a disorderly persons shoplifting offense and remand the case back down to the Municipal Court to be litigated. I have seen this done for shoplifting charges as high as $1,800.00 in merchandise which was allegedly stolen.
In Paramus Municipal Court this week, I was able to get the shoplifting charge dismissed on two grounds. First, the State failed to provide discovery on the several conference dates prior to the trial listing. Despite my office’s continued request for discovery and a Motion which was filed previously to provide same, the store (Kohls) failed to produce the report associated with the incident and the videotape footage associated with the incident until the day of trial. The judge may have let this slide. However, the store employee who appeared for trial as the State’s primary and sole witness was not employed at the store at the time of the alleged theft and was not familiar with the two employees who were present. Moreover, the store employee could not testify to the validity of the videotape footage because he was not working at the store at the time and clearly could not have testified as to the authenticity of this video evidence since he was not in the store at the time of the alleged theft. As a result, the State was unable to prove the shoplifting charge against my client and the charges were dismissed. This was a great victory for my client as she had no prior criminal record and I was able to keep it that way.