Shoplifting

Monmouth County Shoplifting Attorneys

Shoplifting Attorneys in Freehold, NJ

Shoplifting is a serious situation. Though it is not always apparent, stealing small items from a store can lead to overwhelming consequences. Depending on your situation and how much you took, you could face a jail time, exorbitant fines and a permanent criminal record. It is important to stop, take a breath, and call a lawyer. It is important to consult with an attorney that can assess your legal matter and explore all defenses to downgrade your charge or have it dismissed altogether. Tomes & Hanratty, P.C. is an experienced law firm with decades of criminal defense knowledge. our firm has provided countless defendants with the effective legal services they needed to help them through these tough times. When your future is on the line, it is important to have the right legal team on your side. For all levels of shoplifting charges, contact Tomes & Hanratty, P.C. for a consultation.

What will happen at my meeting with a lawyer?

Each law firm runs differently. Some do charge you for the consultation and some only have you meet with a paralegal and you don’t see the lawyer until you get to court.   Here we do not charge you for the initial consultation and you meet with a lawyer.  You will be asked to bring with you your complaint and any documents you have and a list of any witnesses and a list of any prior issues you have had shoplifting or any other criminal history. When you get to our office, you will be greeted by our friendly Client Services Assistant, who will take you to our conference room for some privacy. You will be given a one-page form to complete with your contact information and asked if you need anything to drink or snack on.  We know meeting a lawyer is not easy and we want to give you time to collect yourself.

You will then meet with a lawyer.  We will review your ticket, explain the charges and the maximum penalties that can be imposed as well as the likely penalties that will be imposed. We will review any evidence you brought and then talk about how it possible to defend the case and how, based on your defenses, it will impact your possible penalties with We will then discuss with you’re the process of how the case works if you choose to represent yourself or if you hire us.  If your case is in Municipal Court, we will give you a pamphlet on what happens in Municipal Court to help you if you choose to represent yourself.   If you choose to hire us, we will explain the retainer agreement and our fees.  If you choose not to hire us, we will send you a letter confirming that and advising that if you change your mind you can contact us in the future after meeting with any other lawyers.

What do the charges on my ticket mean and what am I up against?

Shoplifting charges and penalties are determined based upon the amount claimed to have been stolen.  If it is a small amount, (under $200), it is tried in municipal court.  Stolen merchandise that is alleged to be $200 or more is tried in the County Court in the Criminal Division.

Amount Alleged Stolen                 Charge                                   Fine                Jail Time

over $75000                                    2nd  Degree              up to $150,000        5-10 years

over $500 but under $75,000      3rd Degree                up to $15,000         3-5 years

over $200 but under $500            4th Degree                up to $10,000          18 months

under $200                                       Disorderly                 up to $1,000 6 months

Subsequent disorderly offenses are subject to additional fines and jail time.

In addition, all charges face community service as well as restitution to the store.  You must pay the store not only for the merchandise you took but also a civil penalty of $150.00.  If you do not pay it, the store can sue you civilly and collect a judgment that will include their costs and attorney fees.

What must the State prove to convict me of shoplifting?

The State must prove that

  • you purposefully carried away or concealed any merchandise that is for sale or put on display by a retailer or seller of goods,
  • that the party from which the goods were stolen was a store or a retail establishment, and
  • that you concealed or carried away the property with the intent to deprive the store or retail establishment of the goods.

What happens at my first court appearance with my shoplifting charge?

Each town and county is a little different, but in general, when you first get to Court, you will have to go through a metal detector.  Most courts require you to check in with the clerk, although some courts will tell you to just wait for the calendar call.

Your first court appearance is what is known as an ‚Äúarraignment‚ÄĚ.¬† When the Judge comes out, the Judge will explain your rights and the process of pleading guilty versus pleading not guilty and a trial.¬† Your case is not the only case scheduled.¬† There are a number of arraignments scheduled, as well as other hearings.¬† Although your particular arraignment will only take a few minutes, be prepared to spend at least half a day.¬† ¬†¬†At the call, you should always plead ‚Äúnot guilty‚ÄĚ and ask to speak with the Prosecutor to see if they are willing to lessen your charge.¬† Even a municipal court charge of Shoplifting is a serious charge.

Speaking with the Prosecutor is an informal procedure. You will either go to a private room or a special table.  You will tell the Prosecutor who you are and the Prosecutor will tell you what he can do with your charge.  If you are satisfied, you will sign a slip with the outcome and then will sit in the courtroom until you are called.  Pleading guilty to a shoplifting charge, however, has significant consequences as explained below.  Generally, the court will hear cases with a defense lawyer first and then will hear the guilty pleas or plea bargained cases next.

When the judge calls your name, you will go up to the front of the courtroom and the judge will confirm what the outcome is, either that you are pleading to the original charge or the plea bargained charge.   He will ask you if you understand you are waiving your right to trial and to an attorney as well as confirm that you are making the plea voluntarily. The judge will then impose your sentence.  All fines need to be paid at the violations window that da unless the Judge agrees to a payment plan for you.  If a jail sentence is imposed, normally you will be able to make arrangements to do the time later.  However, if you fail to show at your scheduled time, a warrant will be issued for your arrest, subjecting to you to further penalties and charges.

If you wish to continue to plead not guilty, it is likely that the court will reschedule your case to a later date.  Before the trial is scheduled, you should write to the Prosecutor asking for the evidence against you.  You will also have to provide the Prosecutor with any evidence and the contact information for your witnesses you will be presenting in your defense.

What happens at my trial in Municipal Court?

When you appear at your trial in municipal court, if you are not represented by an attorney, you will again meet with the prosecutor to see if the charge can be resolved. If it cannot, in all likelihood, your case will be heard after all the other guilty pleas and plea bargains are resolved. Be prepared to wait a long time.

When the trial begins, you will walk up to the counsel table that usually says ‚ÄúDefendant‚ÄĚ.¬† The Judge will put your case name and docket number on the record.¬† Your case is tried by a judge, not a jury. ¬†The prosecutor will usually give a brief opening statement and then you may also give an opening statement.¬† An opening statement is basically a summary of what you are going to prove.¬† Sometimes, the judge will not ask for an opening statement.¬† The prosecutor will then present his witnesses. After the witness is done testifying, you can ask the witness any questions.¬† The witness may also talk about documents. You can question the witness regarding those documents.¬† The prosecutor may also play any surveillance tapes.¬† When the prosecutor finished his case, he will say something to the effect of ‚ÄúProsecution rests‚ÄĚ.¬† What that means is that he has no more evidence to present. You can then begin presenting your evidence.¬† You are not required to testify. ¬†¬†If you do the prosecutor can ask you questions. After each of your witnesses testimony, the Prosecutor will also be able to ask your witnesses questions.¬† After you are done with your evidence, you will say ‚ÄúDefendant rests‚ÄĚ.¬† That ends the evidence in your case.¬† The judge will usually, but not always, ask if anyone wants to give a closing statement. You will go first, and your closing statement is an argument about why the evidence shows you are not guilty.¬† The judge will then make his ruling, and if you are found not guilty you can leave immediately. If you are found guilty and you do not plan to appeal you need to pay any fines before you leave.¬† If you do plan to appeal, you should ask for a stay of the penalties until you appeal.

How do I appeal my shoplifting conviction in Municipal Court?

If you wish to appeal a conviction in municipal court, you must file a Notice of Municipal Court Appeal within twenty days of your conviction.  This date cannot be extended.    You also must request a transcript of your hearing.  In your Notice of Appeal, you must set forth the facts and law which you believe show that you should not have been convicted.  Forms are available at the New Jersey Court’s online website.  If you wish to appeal a conviction, it is strongly recommended that you at least speak with a lawyer if not hire one.

Is there a conditional discharge or probationary discharge for a first offense?

If you are arrested for a third or fourth-degree offense (over $500 but under $75,000 alleged to have been stolen), you may be able to apply for a program called Pretrial Intervention (PTI). This is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice process and involves some form of probation and performing community service. If you successfully complete Pretrial Intervention, the original charges against you are dismissed. However, your arrest record will still exist and be available to the public. You may get rid of this arrest record 6 months after completion of the PTI program by applying for an expungement.

Unfortunately, there is no PTI for a charge in Municipal Court. If the case cannot be dismissed, you should try to downgrade to a municipal ordinance violation.

How can I get rid of a shoplifting conviction?

To get rid of a shoplifting conviction, you must apply for an expungement.  If you were able to be downgraded to a municipal ordinance violation, you can apply two years after paying your fine in full.

If you were convicted of misdemeanor shoplifting, you cannot apply for an expungement until after   3 or 5 years after completion of your sentence, including full payment of fines, jail time and community service.  If you don’t have other convictions on your record, you should qualify for the 3-year waiting period.

If you were convicted of a 2nd, 3rd or 4th-degree crime, you will have to wait 5 or 10 years to apply for an expungement.

Does a shoplifting charge impact me beyond the criminal and civil penalties?

Shoplifting and theft are crimes of ‚Äúmoral turpitude‚ÄĚ. That legal mumbo jumbo means it is a crime contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals. One who has been convicted of such a crime is considered dishonest.

As a result, a shoplifting conviction can have far more reaching effects that your fine, jail time or community service.  It can impact your employment, your license, your immigration status and your general stature in the community.  This is true even for a misdemeanor conviction in municipal court.

Is a shoplifting charge ever dismissed?

Municipal shoplifting charges can be dismissed if the store does not show after at least one occasion and did not have an adequate excuse for the first time.  We have gotten cases dismissed in this manner. However, when the case is scheduled for a second time because the store did not appear, your case is listed for trial. That means that if they do show up, you must be ready for trial, and cannot ask that the case be rescheduled so you can get a lawyer.   It is very rare for a County Court shoplifting case to be dismissed for a failure of a witness to appear.  That is because the County Court criminal trial takes more than one day, so the court can issue a subpoena to compel the witness to appear.

If the Prosecutor has not provided you with the evidence to be used against you after you have requested it, you can request that your case be dismissed. Usually, the court will allow the Prosecutor a certain number of days to produce and if it is not produced your case will be dismissed at the next hearing.

It is also possible for your case to be dismissed if the Prosecutor is not able to prove all of the things he must prove under a shoplifting charge.  This is more complicated and is usually done by filing a request with the court and a legal memo as to what things are not proven and the case law supporting a dismissal.

Contact our Monmouth County shoplifting attorneys

We have been helping citizens charged with criminal violations such as shoplifting for over 20 years.  Many times we tell a client that they will do just as well by going to court on their own rather than by retaining us.  Shoplifting is not one of those situations because the risks beyond the criminal penalty are just too great.  By retaining us, first we will request the necessary discovery that the prosecutor will use against you.  We will then review it and compare it other cases that have been dismissed.  We will meet with you again to review the discovery to determine whether there are any missing holes in the discovery that would be helpful.  We will prepare a legal memo to the court explaining why the prosecutor has not proven his case.  This is the most helpful way to obtain a downgrade of your charges, and possibly a dismissal of your charges.  We will also help you with applying for an expungement of your records.