If I have court for a minor shoplifting offense, should I plea guilty or not?

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If I have court for a minor shoplifting offense, should I plea guilty or not?

What are the ramifications of both pleas?

Asked on March 5, 2014 under Criminal Law, New Jersey


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

What is shoplifting?

Shoplifting is a common term for theft or stealing of any kind from a retail store. It is generally defined as taking merchandise from a retail store without paying for it or without intending to pay for it.

Are the shoplifting laws the same in every state?

No - The laws and rules about shoplifting are determined by each individual state and by local jurisdictions. Shoplifting laws can vary widely from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

What can a store do if they suspect a person of shoplifting?

Under most state laws, a store has the legal right to stop and detain a suspect if they have “probable cause” – meaning they have seen the suspect take the merchandise, conceal it, move or modify the item and/or fail to pay for the item before leaving the store. The store also has the right to demand the return of the merchandise, to ban the offender from their store for a period of time, to prosecute the offender criminally and charge the offender with a civil penalty as well – all under local and state law.

Do I have to be the one who took the merchandise to be charged with shoplifting or retail theft?

No, you do not have to be the one who actually took the merchandise. In some cases, you can be charged with shoplifting if you are with someone else who shoplifts. If you act as a lookout or do something to distract the store employees while someone else shoplifts something you can still be charged with shoplifting.

There are many other forms of shoplifting as well. For example, a person can also be charged with shoplifting if they change the price or modify a price tag on an item or in some cases, even if they eat and sample food that they have not paid for as they shop – unless of course the food is clearly marked “Free Samples.”

Isn’t shoplifting considered a minor offense? What determines if the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony?

Shoplifting is theft and a criminal offense no matter how much a person steals. However, the actual charges are determined by the amount and value of the merchandise stolen. What that amount is varies from state to state. For example, shoplifting is generally considered a misdemeanor (petit theft or larceny) if the value of the merchandise is less than $200 - $500. If the value of the stolen goods exceeds $500, it is often considered a felony and a person can be charged with grand theft or grand larceny. (Refer to Shoplifting Laws by State below to find the shoplifting laws in your state.)

Who decides what your shoplifting charge is?

Which shoplifting laws and penalties apply to your case is determined by the police and/or the prosecutor. The final charge is based on the facts of the case collected by the store where you were caught. In addition to the value of the merchandise you stole, the specific charge and the seriousness of the charge can vary widely depending on many others things including your criminal background, your history of retail theft and whether or not you had proper identification and cooperated when you were caught.

What happens if it my first time shoplifting?

Again, this depends on many of the factors noted above. But in many states and jurisdictions, the police, prosecutors and judges have the option to offer first-time offenders an opportunity to complete community service, an education program or other type of alternative sentencing program in lieu of a harsher sentence. In fact, if a person completes an education program before going to court, many judges and prosecutors will take this into consideration at sentencing.

These pages on Shoplifting and the Law are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. NASP does not provide legal advice. If you have been accused of shoplifting, click here to find an experienced criminal attorney.

Answer: Consult with an attorney in your locality for help. One can be found on attorneypages.com.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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