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What are the legal consequences of switching price tags?

With the prices of most consumer goods continuing to climb, it can be hard for many New Jersey residents to buy food, clothing and other essential items. Still, because retail theft is a serious criminal offense in the Garden State, you probably want to think twice before taking something without paying for it.

Instead of outright stealing an item, it may be tempting to swap price tags with a less expensive item. In New Jersey, price tag switching usually constitutes shoplifting. Upon conviction, you may face some harsh consequences for changing price tags.

What is the price difference?

If you illegally pay a lower price for a costlier item after switching the price tags, your legal exposure may depend on the price difference. For theft of under $200, you only may face a disorderly persons charge. If you underpay by more than that, though, prosecutors may charge you with a more serious crime, such as fourth-, third- or even second-degree shoplifting.

Are you going to go to jail?

Your primary concern following a conviction for shoplifting may be possible jail time. How much time you may serve, though, depends on a variety of factors, including your criminal record and the nature of your offense.

Generally, for a disorderly person’s conviction, you may face up to six months in jail. On the other end of the spectrum, you may spend up to a decade in prison for second-degree shoplifting. Either way, you can expect to pay both a fine and restitution to the store.

There are usually some defenses to shoplifting charges, of course. Ultimately, whether you are facing low- or high-level charges for changing price tags, exploring these defenses may help you avoid the serious consequences that often come with a shoplifting conviction.

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