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Paying the Price for Shoplifting
by Ron Davis

The value of goods shoplifted at a New Jersey shopping center has determined the prison sentence that the apprehended thief must serve.

The shopping center is Paramus Park Mall, in Paramus, and the shoplifting incident occurred at a department store operated by Macy’s Inc., a tenant of the center. The thief was caught red-handed after he left the store with clothing merchandise that he had not bought.

The shoplifter was obviously knowledgeable regarding retailer devices that protect against thieves. While in the store, he carried a portable container known as a booster bag. Such containers are lined with aluminum foil to prevent detection devices at store exits from sounding an alarm. The foil interrupts the signal that ordinarily would set off an alarm when undecoded merchandise tags pass by a detection device.

The shoplifter at Paramus Park Mall had warranted attention prior to his capture. Macy’s employees had alerted store security when he refused to have his selected items counted before entering a fitting room there. Two security officers called to the scene said they then spotted aluminum foil protruding from his shopping bag. They added that they also saw him enter a fitting room with 10 or more clothing items and heard sounds from the fitting room that they said they thought were the removal with pliers of sensor tags.

The guards followed the shoplifter as he left the store without paying for the items in his bag. They then accosted him, handcuffed him, and brought him back to the store’s security office.

At trial, the value of the goods found on the shoplifter at the time of his arrest was a factor in resolving the length of his prison sentence. Altogether, the security guards said eight items were in the confiscated bag and their retail value totaled $636.

In response to that estimate, however, lawyers for the shoplifter pointed out that numerous items taken from the store were on sale. So the retail value of the stolen goods, the lawyers added, must reflect a lower price. And lowering the price was vital because of New Jersey laws.

In that state, shoplifting becomes a serious crime when the value of the property taken exceeds $500. A jury subsequently found the shoplifter guilty of taking goods valued at more than $500. The judge then determined that, based on the retail value of the goods taken in this case, the shoplifter must serve a five-year sentence.

The shoplifter appealed that sentence, arguing that the price of the goods taken was less than $500 because of the sale at the time of his arrest. In fact, in instructing the jury, the judge had explained to jury members that they should calculate the amount of the goods taken using the “full retail value.” He then defined that value as “the merchant’s stated or advertised price of the merchandise.”

A New Jersey appellate court ruled that the sentence must stand. Explained the judge, “The instruction [by the trial judge to the jury] was clear and easy to understand…. Whether the [computer-generated] number accurately reflected that day’s sales prices was more than adequately framed [to the jury].” (State v. Alicea, 2009 WL 1077305 [N.J.Super.A.D.])

Decision: April 2009
Published: May 2009



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