An Overview Of Theft Crimes In The State Of New Jersey

Interviewer: The lowest form of petty theft, is it shoplifting or what is it called?

Ben Kelsen: That would probably be shoplifting in petty theft. Shoplifting can go anywhere from taking a candy bar or anything going up to designer jeans at some department store. Technically speaking, shoplifting is anything, or any attempt of deprivation from a business owner or a shop owner of their inventory.

Shoplifting Is Any Attempt To Deprive a Business Owner Of Their Inventory

So I’ve had cases that have dealt with, unfortunately with mothers who can’t afford baby formula or diapers, kids stealing magazines or other stupid stuff, all the way up to a younger woman who decided she needed a specific pair of designer jeans for 300 dollars; and the largest one I’ve ever had as far as a shoplifting was a gentleman who tried to steal  or at least at this point has been accused – of stealing bottles of wine from a wine store, totaling approximately 9000 dollars for a few bottles of very expensive wine. I’ve also had cases where a guy’s tried to wheel a 60 inch flat screen TV out of a department store. So shoplifting can go from any level if you’re taking something from the store without paying.

The Different Levels of Theft Offenses in New Jersey

Interviewer: So what are the levels? Is there a minimum amount? What if you take something of a minimal value, like a pack of gum that’s 50 cents?

Ben Kelsen: Right, that’s a very good question. In New Jersey – unlike in some other systems – we have the municipal court and we have the superior court. The municipal court is a court of limited jurisdiction. There is a municipal court for each one of our municipalities plus several for the special district. There are over 550 municipal courts in New Jersey, each one of those has jurisdiction over 3 areas. One of them is municipal ordinances, which are things such as having a block party without a permit or spitting on the sidewalk or acting drunk in public, or things like that.

Municipal ordinance could be that you have permit to fill the deck on the back to your house up to six feet but you’ve filled it up to eight feet. That’s municipal ordinance. They also handle traffic violations and they handle what everybody else in the world calls misdemeanors and in New Jersey we refer to as disorderly person’s offense. So that’s a municipal court.

Any Theft That Occurs Where The Value is Below $200 is a Disorderly Person’s Offense in New Jersey

Any theft that occurs where the value is below 200 dollars is by definition a disorderly person’s offense and it’s in the municipal court. Anything above 200 dollars begins getting into the indictable offense level. Keeping in mind that the criminal code has not really been revised since 1947. A fourth degree which is the lowest – it goes fourth, third, second and first – a fourth degree felony or indictable offense or criminal charge as it’s called here in New Jersey would be anywhere from 200 up to basically about a thousand dollars give or take usually. It’s up to the prosecutors how they want to charge but generally that’s what they’ll do.

Anything above a thousand to approximately 75,000 they’ll do as a third degree, which will probably buy, in theory, 3 to 5 years in state prison. And anything that is going to be above that to 150, give or take, is going to be a second degree. Now the question that comes up is shoplifting specifically – shoplifting can sometimes be considered as a felony or it can be done in the municipal court.

A Third Offense of Shoplifting Results in Mandatory County Jail Time in New Jersey

Most commonly, what we would refer colloquially to as shoplifting, is usually this small amount and it’s not really worth very much and it’s done in the municipal courts. It is not unusual for a case to be, in theory, an indictable offense meaning a felony level charge, because of the amount of money of the merchandise, and the county prosecutor to decline prosecution in the superior court system and send it back down to the municipal court. So even if you have something which is like a 300 dollar pair of jeans, or a 600 dollar pair of boots or whatever – that or the TV or who knows what – that would probably end up in the municipal court as a shoplifting. So on a shoplifting you have several different factors or fines – I’m sorry, central penalties.

On a first offense you’re looking at a 200 dollar fine, no jail time, and stuff like that. If it’s a second offense you’re looking at a higher fine, potentially you’re looking at jail time and possibly some community service. On a third you’re looking at a mandatory county jail sentence. And that is mandatory without any choice. So what unfortunately happens is that a person is found on a third offense ever, in their lifetime of shoplifting, they’re looking at mandatory county jail time.

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