Located at the intersection of Route 4 and Route 17 near the Garden State Parkway, the Westfield Garden State Plaza is not just the largest mall in New Jersey (more than 2 million square feet of retail space) it’s also consistently ranked as one of the most popular in the state. With its many high-end stores and heavy foot traffic, shoplifting is a common but heavily policed issue.
Anyone caught shoplifting at the Westfield Garden State Plaza can find themselves charged with a criminal offense. This is a serious situation that should not be taken lightly. Here’s what anyone charged with shoplifting should know.
Types of Shoplifting in New Jersey
Under N.J.S.C. 2C:20-11 there are several specific acts that are classified as shoplifting. This includes:
- Purposely taking merchandise without paying for it.
- This is “classical” shoplifting where a person takes something out of the store without paying for it by concealing or hiding the merchandise or wearing it.
- Altering or transferring a price tag so as to conceal the true value of the item
- This is when a person takes a price tag from a less expensive item, transfers it to a more expensive item, then proceeds to the cashier and pays the lesser amount. Even though the item was paid for, the amount paid was less than it should have been so a crime has been committed.
- Under-ringing merchandise (i.e. issuing unauthorized discounts).
- When a store employee intentionally undercharges himself or a customer this is also considered shoplifting under NJ law.
- Removing a shopping cart from the premises
- Shopping carts are property of the store or mall that provides them. Taking one off store property is considered shoplifting.
See Also: NJ Shoplifting FAQ
How Do Stores Catch Shoplifters?
The majority of shoplifters are caught on security cameras taking items off the shelf and hiding them. In Westfield Garden State Plaza and other malls there are cameras inside the stores and in the common areas of the mall itself. Most people do not realize but it is legal and likely that clothing stores in Westfield Mall will have security cameras inside dressing rooms.
Plain-clothes and uniformed loss prevention officers often roam the mall keeping watch for potential acts of theft. Of course, there are plenty of people who are simply seen in the act of shoplifting by a cashier or other store employee.
What Normally Happens When Someone Gets Caught for Shoplifting?
A person who has been accused of shoplifting will almost always be approached by a loss prevention (LP) officer employed by the mall. He/she will inform the shopper of the accusation and bring them to the loss prevention office. Although typical mall protocol dictates the LP officer cannot physically touch a suspect, the mall does have the right to detain anyone believed to have shoplifted or attempted to shoplift.
The LP, store manager or other personnel will attempt to recover any shoplifted items. The store is entitled to impose a civil fine of $150 plus the cost of “damage” (usually the cost of the items in question). Never admit guilt or agree to pay the fine at that point in time in exchange for an offer of “leniency”! Even if the LP officer says they won’t press charges, there is always a chance they will anyway and admitting guilt and/or offering to pay the civil fine can be used in court to help prove your guilt.
While it is possible to be arrested for shoplifting, it is more likely police will issue an “appearance ticket” with a court date on which the accused must appear to respond to the charges.
Penalties for Shoplifting at Westfield Garden State Plaza
The value of the merchandise that was stolen will directly affect the severity of the charge. Shoplifting items with a full retail value of less than $200 carries a sentence of up to six months in jail. Taking between $200 and $500 worth of merchandise has a potential penalty of up to 18 months in jail while shoplifting an item or items worth between $500 and $75,000 means a possible three to five years in prison. In the worst case, shoplifting more than $75,000 worth of goods can lead to five to 10 years behind bars.
All except the lowest level charge are considered felonies (known as “degree crimes”) under New Jersey law. On top of any possible fines, anyone convicted of shoplifting can be required to reimburse the store for the stolen property. In addition, prosecutors can sometimes aggregate multiple shoplifting offenses into a single charge and define the punishment by the total value of merchandise in question across all the acts.
A conviction also means having a criminal record, which can have a negative impact on many other aspects of one’s life, including access to housing, employment opportunities, and even one’s immigration status.
Paramus, NJ Shoplifting Attorney
A shoplifting charge can sometimes be challenged on grounds of intent (e.g. the item was removed by accident). In some cases, such as changing price tags and under-ringing merchandise, intent is not needed for a conviction, but these are an exception. Regardless of circumstance, it takes skills and experience to understand the evidence and develop and effective defense against any kind of shoplifting charge.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for shoplifting or for any other criminal offense in New Jersey, you need the help of the Rosenblum Law Firm. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys can fight to reduce or dismiss the charges and avoid the consequences of a conviction. Email or call 888-979-7551 today for a free consultation about your case.