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Shoplifting 2C:20-11(b)

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Proetta & Oliver

Elizabeth NJ Shoplifting Attorney

Lawyer for Shoplifting in Union County, New Jersey

If you have been arrested for shoplifting in New Jersey, you are facing serious penalties such as community service, probation, thousands in restitution and even mandatory incarceration in some circumstances. Although many people think of shoplifting as a relatively harmless offense that might be committed by kids at a local convenience store, New Jersey law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges do not take shoplifting charges lightly because businesses lose millions of dollars every year due to in-store theft. In fact, if you are convicted of shoplifting, or if you plead guilty to a shoplifting charge, you could be subject to jail time, fines, and a criminal record that will haunt you for a very long time. Beyond that, it can be embarrassing to have to explain a shoplifting conviction to friends, family members, co-workers, and future employers. The bottom line is that you need to take your shoplifting charge as seriously as the prosecutor in your case will. The best first move you can make is to contact a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer who can help you avoid conviction, mitigate the serious repercussions thereof, and work to keep your record clean.

At Proetta & Oliver, our law firm is dedicated to exclusively defending clients for criminal and municipal court charges such as shoplifting and related charges including possession of burglary tools. We frequently represent clients charged with shoplifting in Elizabeth, Union Township, Linden, Westfield, Cranford, and Springfield. If you would like to speak with an experienced shoplifting criminal attorney then contact our Cranford office at (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation.

What Constitutes Shoplifting in New Jersey?

Shoplifting is specifically addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11. The statute lays out the different scenarios that can give rise to a shoplifting charge:

  • Removing an item from the store: The most common shoplifting violation is when a person purposely takes possession of an item and then carries it outside a retail store without having paid for the item.
  • Concealing an item: Another act that is considered a shoplifting offense is when a person purposely conceals store merchandise with the intent to steal it.
  • Altering a price tag. A less common shoplifting offense is when a person purposely alters, transfers, or removes a price tag or label from store merchandise and then attempts to purchase the item at a lower price.
  • Switching packages or containers: It is also a shoplifting offense if a person purposely transfers store merchandise from one container or package to another container or package. This is typically done with the intent of paying less for the item because it appears to be packaged as a less expensive item.
  • Under-ringing merchandise: This shoplifting offense usually requires the actions or assistance of a store employee who purposely under-rings store merchandise at the cash register so that the shoplifter pays less money. 
  • Stealing a shopping cart: When a person purposely removes a shopping cart from the store premises and then does not return the cart, it may constitute a shoplifting offense.

Shoplifting charges are extremely common in New Jersey, with the offense often involving the alleged theft of store merchandise that has a low value. Shoplifting offenses are typically committed at local retail establishments, including grocery stores, convenience stores, delis, clothing stores, department stores, pharmacies, and shopping malls. As the below statute illustrates, you can be convicted of shoplifting if you steal merchandise from a retail store or concealed it with the intention of stealing but never actually even left the store. Moreover, many people do not understand that switching or altering price tags is actually shoplifting also.

2C:20-11(b) New Jersey Shoplifting Law

The New Jersey statute for shoplifting is listed below, in pertinent part, for your reading convenience.

§ 2C:20-11. Shoplifting

b. Shoplifting shall consist of any one or more of the following acts:

(1) For any person purposely to take possession of, carry away, transfer or cause to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise or converting the same to the use of such person without paying to the merchant the full retail value thereof.

(2) For any person purposely to conceal upon his person or otherwise any merchandise offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the processes, use or benefit of such merchandise or converting the same to the use of such person without paying to the merchant the value thereof.

(3) For any person purposely to alter, transfer or remove any label, price tag or marking indicia of value or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment and to attempt to purchase such merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than the full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of all or some part of the value thereof.

(4) For any person purposely to transfer any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail merchandise establishment from the container in or on which the same shall be displayed to any other container with intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the retail value thereof.

(5) For any person purposely to under-ring with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value thereof.

(6) For any person purposely to remove a shopping cart from the premises of a store or other retail mercantile establishment without the consent of the merchant given at the time of such removal with the intention of permanently depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such cart.

Penalties for Shoplifting Increase as the Value gets Higher

The specific degree of the charge in a shoplifting case is determined by the value of the store merchandise that was supposedly shoplifted. When the merchandise had a value of more than $200, the shoplifting offense is classified as a felony. This means that the shoplifting charge is an indictable offense, in which case the defendant must first be indicted by a grand jury before the case can be litigated at trial in the county superior court. By contrast, if the merchandise had a value of $200 or less, the shoplifting offense is classified as a disorderly persons offense (a misdemeanor). Misdemeanor shoplifting offenses are handled in the local municipal court, where a judge will ultimately decide the defendant’s fate.

The classification of a shoplifting offense as either a felony or a misdemeanor, and the subsequent transfer of the case to either superior court or municipal court, matters because the penalties are different. The reduced penalties that come with a misdemeanor shoplifting charge also make it vitally important that anyone charged with shoplifting have a qualified criminal defense attorney handling the case. That’s because an attorney may be able to get your felony charges downgraded to a disorderly persons offense charge so that your case is heard in the lower court, where the penalties are far less severe and it is unlikely that a conviction will result in jail time.

Shoplifting charges in New Jersey are categorized as:

Second Degree Shoplifting Over $75,000 worth of merchandise 5 – 10 years in state prison; incarceration presumed
Third Degree Shoplifting $500 – $75,000 worth of merchandise 3 – 5 years in state prison
Fourth Degree Shoplifting $200 – $500 worth of merchandise Up to 18 months in state prison
Disorderly Persons Offense Shoplifting Under $200 of worth merchandise Up to 6 months in county jail

Crime Involving Moral Turpitude “C.I.M.T.” – If you are not a U.S. Citizen, you face additional immigration consequences because shoplifting is a C.M.I.T. These penalties include mandatory deportation or not being able to re-enter the country if you leave. This can apply to legal immigrants, green card holders, workers and family on visa, and illegal residents.

Shoplifting Defense Attorney in Westfield, New Jersey

Shoplifting charges can be very complicated and have many issues including intent, co-defendant implication, and actual value of merchandise. For this reason, it is vitally important that you have a knowledgeable and skilled criminal lawyer defending your case with every possible method at their disposal. Getting a thorough review of the facts and evidence is the first step toward obtaining the outcome you want in court. As founding attorney, William Proetta Esq., has defended countless criminal and municipal charges in Union County towns such as Mountainside, Clark, Scotch Plains, Summit, and Rahway, including shoplifting cases. We will review and analyze the evidence to find the best defenses, and work with the prosecutor on your behalf to negotiate downgrade, or admittance into a diversion program such as Pre-Trial Intervention. If you or a family member has been charged with the crime of shoplifting then please contact our office for a free consultation at (908) 838-0150.

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