What most people charged with shoplifting may not realize, is that there are legal defenses to the charges. A skilled criminal defense attorney can discuss the details of your case with you and devise a strategy to either challenge or negotiate the charges to get them dismissed, reduced, or rerouted from a prison or jail sentence to a diversion alternative.
Shoplifting in New Jersey can cost you a little or a lot. It depends on how much you supposedly took in connection with the charges that have been filed against you. When it comes to shoplifting, the dividing line between a misdemeanor type offense in municipal court and a felony type offense in superior court is $200.00. If you stole items worth more than $200.00, you could be charged with an indictable crime and anticipate a penalty of 18 months to 10 years in prison and a minimum fine of $15,000.00, plus community service and restitution to the owner of the stolen items. If under $200.00, you may be charged with a disorderly persons offense with a possible six-month jail sentence and $1,000.00 in fines. The other threshold dollar amounts are $500.00 and $75,000.00, which bring the charges up from fourth to third, and third to second degree crimes, respectively, with escalating penalties. But even a fourth degree conviction can have serious ramifications for a defendant’s immigration status. A crime of moral turpitude, like an indictable shoplifting charge, can jeopardize an immigrant’s ability to stay in the country. A disorderly persons offense shoplifting conviction can even weigh against you when applying for permanent residency, particularly if you end up convicted more than once. Fortunately, if the prosecutor’s case does have weaknesses, a well-seasoned attorney may take your case to trial for the win. If proven innocent, you walk away without incarceration, fines, or a criminal record.
Successful Defenses for New Jersey Shoplifting Charges
After reviewing the facts of your case, your attorney may find that the prosecutor has weaknesses in their case. Law enforcement, including security officers at retail or other commercial locations, make mistakes or break the law. For example, a store security guard cannot rough you up, keep you locked in a room for hours, or force you to confess to the crime. They must detain you without infringing on your rights to an attorney and to remain silent. If you were unreasonably detained, your case might be thrown out.
Other legal rights infringements may fall on the prosecutor. By law, you are entitled to timely discovery, meaning the right to see evidence supporting the prosecutor’s case against you. The prosecutor may have witness statements, law enforcement reports, and video footage they intend to use to secure a shoplifting conviction against you. The judge handling the case oversees the timing of the legal process and sets deadlines by which discovery must be turned over. If the prosecutor fails to meet that deadline, the judge may dismiss the case. Since you have the constitutional right to a speedy trial, your attorney may make a motion to dismiss the case due to any unnecessary delay in prosecuting the case.
Even if your case proceeds to trial, your case might still be dismissed if the prosecutor cannot meet their burden of proof for a shoplifting conviction. For example, the sole witness to the crime, usually store personnel, does not show up to court. If, for any reason, the prosecutor has insufficient evidence to convict you, a talented lawyer can get the charges dismissed altogether.
Negotiating to Reduce a Shoplifting Charge
Short of dismissal, you may still get your shoplifting charges reduced from an indictable crime to a disorderly persons offense or even a lesser charge. Negotiating with the prosecutor for a plea bargain favorable to you takes legal skills and know-how. An experienced shoplifting defense attorney who knows the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecutor’s case and yours can be persuasive. Prosecutors bargain for a guilty plea for many reasons: to avoid the time and cost of a trial, clear heavy caseloads, and court calendars, get a guaranteed conviction, avoid contributing to overcrowded jails, and consider the victim. Your attorney knows these incentives to bargain and can capitalize on them, negotiating for a lesser offense, even a minor ticket offense, like a municipal ordinance violation. However, the circumstances of the crime, the confidence in a conviction, and the defendant’s criminal history may affect what the prosecutor agrees to in exchange for a guilty plea.
First Time Shoplifting? Enrolling in a Diversionary Program to get the Case Dropped
Trying a case is always risky to some degree. Sometimes, a better option may be to help you apply for a diversionary alternative to serving a sentence. If you have a clean record, you can apply for the Pre-Trial Intervention program that allows you to be on probation for a limited time, after which the charges are dropped. The object of the program is to supervise you while you maintain employment, stay free of crime and substance abuse, and comply with the requirements of the program for you, which may mean classes, counseling, or other prescribed actions. When you complete the program, your record is clear of a shoplifting conviction. This program is available in superior court only, so if you shoplifted items valued under $200.00, you must seek out other diversionary programs available in municipal court.
In municipal court, you may be eligible for the conditional dismissal program, which compares to the Pre-Trial Intervention program in superior court. For disorderly persons offenses, you can apply to the program, a supervised probation during which you are subject to random drug testing and possibly other conditions specific to your case. You must also stay substance and arrest-free and abide by the rules of the program, which, after completion, allows you to keep a clean record. Both programs are subject to your approval. So, conceivably, your attorney can negotiate your fourth degree shoplifting crime of changing the price tags on a computer system down to a disorderly persons offense and then help you get into the conditional dismissal program. This is just one example of one of the many potential outcomes that can serve your best interests in a shoplifting case.
Get Defense Help to Beat Your Shoplifting Case in Morris County, NJ
Going up against a prosecutor alone for any shoplifting charge is fraught with opportunities for things to go wrong. Lacking the legal expertise of the law and the court systems, let alone the rules and practices of a specific courthouse, you run the risk of getting taken advantage of by those who have far more experience prosecuting criminal or disorderly persons offenses than you do defending them. Call on our local criminal defense attorneys, who frequently handle shoplifting cases in Morris County towns like Rockaway, Denville, Boonton, Morris Township, Montville, East Hanover, and Mount Olive, to optimize your chances of beating a conviction. Just contact our office at (908) 336-5008 to get a free consultation.