The New Jersey shoplifting statute (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11) specifies the various acts that constitute a shoplifting offense. A person commits a shoplifting offense if he/she, (1) takes or carries away merchandise offered for sale; (2) hides or conceals merchandise; (3) switches or alters price tags; (4) transfers goods from one container to another; (5) under-rings at the register; or (6) removes a shopping cart from the store.

An individual can only be penalized for this offense of he/she acted with purpose, meaning that there must be some intent on the part of the defendant to take without paying. However, the state can meet its burden of proof by showing that the defendant purposefully concealed the merchandise, which is prima facie evidence of the intent to permanently deprive.

Mandatory Jail and Mandatory Community Service Penalties

The New Jersey shoplifting statute mandates community service for a first offense, second offense and third offense. For a first offense, the defendant must perform 10 days of community service. For a second offense, 15 days of community service, and for a third or subsequent offense, a maximum of 25 days may be imposed in addition to a minimum mandatory jail term of 3 months. An accused can also be exposed to jail on a first offense or second offense if an indictable shoplifting offense is involved. If someone is indicted for a fourth degree, third degree, or higher offense, than the sentencing and jail provisions under the indictable criminal code will apply.

Gradation and Aggregation of New Jersey Shoplifting Offenses

Shoplifting, like many other theft offenses, is subject to gradation. Grading differences are primarily determined by the amounts involved, and the defendant will be penalized accordingly. If the full retail value of the items stolen is $75,000 or more, it is a second-degree offense. If the value involved is between $500 and $75,000, it is a third-degree offense. If the value is between $200 and $500, it is fourth-degree offense. If the goods are worth less than $200, a disorderly person offense has been committed. It is also important to note that New Jersey law allows for the aggregation of amounts in shoplifting cases. This means that the prosecutor may take the total value of the items stolen and charge the defendant with a more serious (often indictable) offense. For example, if an individual is arrested for shoplifting items from four different stores at the mall during the course of the same afternoon, the prosecutor will likely add together the retail value of all the items to determine the grade of offense. Each incident of shoplifting may have yielded merchandise worth less than $200, constituting a disorderly persons offense. However, since the violations were part of one continuous course of conduct, the amounts may be aggregated and a crime of the third degree will likely result, carrying with it a possible prison term of three to five years. It is imperative that an individual retain a knowledgeable lawyer to insure that the State does not improperly grade or aggregate offenses.