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National retailers back harsher shoplifting penalties

| Nov 11, 2020 | Theft Charges

After George Floyd’s killing at Minneapolis police officers’ hands in May, huge retail companies issued strong statements denouncing the impact of systemic racism and police violence on Black communities.

However, many of these companies’ actions contradict that message by advocating for stronger shoplifting laws across the country. So far, their efforts against criminal justice reform have targeted 18 states, and they’ve been successful in 11 of them.

Companies opposing state criminal justice reform

State retail industry groups primarily oppose reforms that seek to reduce mass incarceration caused by over-policing in communities of color. Those groups receive much of their funding from:

  • Best Buy
  • Target
  • Home Depot
  • Walmart
  • Lowes
  • CVS

New Jersey shoplifting penalties

Also known as retail theft, shoplifting is a vague term for someone taking an item with or without the intent not to pay for it or pay less than the full price. You face charges for taking an item outside a store, hiding it or even forgetting you have it when leaving, or altering the price. Penalties are harsh and based on an item’s full retail value. Charges include:

  • Second-degree theft: Taking merchandise valued over $75,000 is punishable by five to 10 years in prison and up to a $150,000 fine.
  • Third-degree theft: Taking items valued between $500 and $75,000 can bring a sentence of three to five years and a fine up to $15,000.
  • Fourth-degree theft: If you’re found guilty of shoplifting items valued between $200 and $500, you can spend up to 18 months in jail and fined up to $10,000.

Even first-time offenders convicted of taking merchandise valued less than $200 face up to 10 days in jail. They may also have to pay restitution and court costs, making it a financially devastating infraction.

Harsher penalties don’t work

FBI data shows property crimes have dropped sharply since the 1990s, but nonprofit consumer advocate Public Citizen says that has no connection to longer sentences and larger fines. The group says shoplifting is associated with poverty, mental health issues and drug addiction, particularly opioids. One study estimates 10% of all Americans have shoplifted at least once.

Serious charges require an aggressive defense

Regardless of whether a person is charged due to their intent to shoplift or because of a misunderstanding or mistake, they face charges that can have life-long consequences. If you are arrested, working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is crucial.

A lawyer who is also a former prosecutor understands the criminal justice system’s intricacies and will fight hard for the best outcome, including the dismissal of the case or reduced charges and penalties.