What to know if you have been arrested and charged with shoplifting
If you have been arrested and charged with shoplifting, the police give you a summons to appear before the court and then release you. Days later, you will likely receive a letter from a lawyer. In fact, you will probably receive numerous letters from attorneys attempting to solicit you as a criminal defense client. But one of the attorney letters is different. This letter is from a lawyer representing the retailer. Many retailers hire a civil attorney that will send you a notice asking you pay $150.00 or more for a civil penalty. Ignoring the letter is often not helpful. Under N.J.S.A. 2A:61C-1, the retailer must send you a written notice at least twenty (20) days before they file a civil lawsuit. However, paying the demanded amount to avoid the civil suit may also prove very detrimental to defending your criminal shoplifting or theft charges.
Is this double jeopardy?
No, this is not double jeopardy. Our federal and state constitutions prohibit being prosecuted for the same crime twice. But in this situation, double jeopardy only applies to the criminal charges. The state can prosecute you for the criminal matter which would not affect the retailer's right to pursue a civil remedy against you.
What are the limitations?
Yes, limitations exist in some but not all cases. In New Jersey, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:61C-1, “A person who commits the offense of shoplifting the offense of theft shall be liable for any criminal penalties imposed by law and shall be liable to the merchant in a civil action in an amount equal to the amount of the retailer's actual losses plus $150.” It is important to remember that, for the statute to apply, the total amount of the retailer's lost or damaged merchandise cannot exceed $500.
Can parents can be held responsible, too?
Yes, parents can be held responsible when their children shoplift in New Jersey. Even worse, a parent, guardian or other person having legal custody of a minor who commits the offense of shoplifting shall be liable to the retailer. This will not apply to a parent whose parental custody and control of such minor has been removed by court order, decree, judgment, military service, or marriage of such infant, or to a resource family parent of such minor.
What if I do not respond to the civil demand letter?
You may face a lawsuit if you do not respond to the civil demand letter. If you do not respond to the civil demand letter, it is possible that you could be sued in civil court. In order for the retailer to prevail in civil court, they must show that (1) the stolen merchandise was valued at less than $500 and, again, that (2) they provided you with notice of their intent to bring a civil suit at least twenty (20) days before filing the complaint. The fact that you have not been convicted of a crime in criminal court will not in and of itself prevent the retailer from proceeding with the civil complaint.
We can help.
Don't jeopardize your future by rolling the dice alone. Shoplifting and theft-related charges can impact your liberty, employment, and pocket book. If you have been arrested for shoplifting or have received a civil penalty notice in the mail, our New Jersey municipal court and criminal defense attorneys are available to give you a free consultation and best advise you on a path forward based upon the law as well as the facts of your individual case. Please contact our team at DeMichele & DeMichele today. You can also reach us by telephone at (856) 546-1350.