Interviewer: From what I understand some people forego hiring an attorney for the first charge or try self-representation. Most times, without an attorney they’re going to end up with a conviction. Then if they face charges a second time, it just ends up being worse for them as far as possible penalties.
NYC Will Not Allow Individuals to Self-Represent in Court
Carl Spector: Yes, it’s never good to represent yourself, of course. In New York City you’re not going to be able to represent yourself. Most judges will either tell you to get a lawyer of you have to find a lawyer on your own.
Does New Jersey Law Differ from New York Law?
Interviewer: Do the laws in New Jersey differ greatly from those in New York?
Carl Spector: They are certain cases and I think you need to understand that different states have different rules. Certainly, administratively they have different rules. I would say as a whole, there are certain similarities. I would also say that there are some great differences.
I practice in both New York and New Jersey and well versed in both.
Shoplifting Charges in New Jersey are Classified Based upon the Value of the Stolen Items
I do get some calls with regard to shoplifting cases in New Jersey. I just wanted to expand upon some questions that people have regarding shoplifting charges in New Jersey. Shoplifting in the State of New Jersey is governed by the New Jersey statutes annotated and it’s under 2C:20-11B subdivision 2. It is under a certain amount of money, which is $500, it is charged as a disorderly person’s offense.
There Are a Number of Ways an Attorney Can Proceed to Defend His or Her Client
There are several different ways that lawyers can handle these cases. In every shoplifting case I handle I always obtain the police reports. I always do an extensive interview of my client. I always notify the court and let them know my client is pleading not guilty and then I always go to court with my client and speak directly with the prosecutor.
If a Favorable Agreement Cannot Be Reached with the Prosecutor, the Case Will Go to Trial
The idea here is to come up with the best possible scenario. Of course, in the criminal justice system, some cases just have to go to trial. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you can’t reach an agreement between the prosecutor and the defense attorney and the client then the case has to proceed to trial.
There are certain strategies that can be thought about short of a trial because a lot of people don’t want to go to the stress and strain of a trial. In certain courts I have found in my experience that prosecutors will sometimes offer a plea bargain that would involve a plea of guilty to something less than a shoplifting charge.
The Penalties in New Jersey Escalate for Multiple Shoplifting Convictions
That could be very advantageous to a client. The reason for that is if you have multiple shopliftings convictions, the penalties escalate; they become harsher and eventually you’re doing community service. Eventually from that you might have to go to jail.
If you’re charged with a shoplifting and you’re not guilty, of course that’s a case that would be legitimately and completely suggestive of a case that should go to trial. There is no reason why somebody should plead guilty to something they didn’t do.
In Some Cases, It Is Preferable to Accept a Plea for a Lesser Charge to Avoid a Conviction on Your Criminal Record for Shoplifting
In many cases, however, clients are comfortable with a plea that prevents them from getting a record for shoplifting. It could be because they have a prior shoplifting. It could be because they have immigration issues. It could be because they want to avoid the stress and being found guilty after a trial.
I have found through my travels through the different municipal courts allover New Jersey, Bergen County, Hudson, Morris, Essex and Hudson and so on, that some prosecutors are willing to offer a plea to a disorderly conduct, which is New Jersey statutes annotated 2C33-2A.
A Lesser Charge May Entail a Substantially Lower Fine Amount
The fines are not that extensive, somewhere under $400 with the court cause. There is no conviction for shoplifting. The actual case gets plea bargained and the person winds up with no record as to the shoplifting.
I find that to be useful plea for certain people who want that plea. Of course, not every person falls into the same category as the next and every case has to be handled separately. Every client has to be handled and talked to differently. Any case that I have is customized towards my particular client’s needs. That becomes useful in a potential plea.
Going to Trial: Accepting a Plea Bargain Is Not Right for Every Case, Depending on the Circumstances of the Case
Another area that should be explored when talking about shoplifting cases that in courts, if somebody is willing to be a little more patient with their case, we would not accept any plea bargain. This is perfectly acceptable outright and puts the case over for a trial.
Witnesses May Not Appear for the Subsequent Court Date; after Two Dates, a Judge May Be Inclined to Dismiss the Case
This means the case goes from one court date to the next court date. If the witnesses and in this case, would probably be from a store, don’t appear a judge may be willing to postpone it one additional time. If that person from the store doesn’t appear, sometimes the judges are willing to dismiss the case after those two appearances.
You have to keep in the back of your mind sometimes that it might be worth the time investment on a case such as a shoplifting to postpone, go to court and postpone it for trial. We can see if the witnesses actually appear. If they don’t, we ask for an immediate dismissal. Some judges and most judges won’t dismiss it on the first time at a time for trial but they may on the second.
That’s also a strategy that I employ in certain cases. Of course, the client has to be not only familiar with it but also to be comfortable with it.
By Carl Spector