Interviewer: What is the lowest level type of theft crime you could be charged with in New Jersey?
Sam Sachs: Disorderly persons theft. It’s an analogue to what other states might call a misdemeanor, and it has a jurisdictional limit on it of a certain amount of money. Then, depending on how much is taken, the thefts are graded from the low level disorderly persons offenses all the way up through the felony counts or, as we call them in New Jersey, indictable offenses.
Interviewer: Okay. Is disorderly persons theft what other states call shoplifting, essentially?
Sam Sachs: Yes, it could be shoplifting or it could be you take your neighbor’s hose reel that’s worth $50. That would be a disorderly persons theft and that’s cognizable in a municipal court.
Interviewer: With these kinds of thefts, is there a minimal amount that you need to be worried where it’s not a theft?
Sam Sachs: Yes, there is a de minimis rule. If you take a jellybean, they still could charge you with theft. There is case law that creates a de minimis provision, but generally it’s hard to convince a court that it’s a de minimis offense.
Interviewer: In your experience, what are some of the most minor things people have stolen that they’ve gotten charged for?
Sam Sachs: Oh, I remember years ago a woman stole a package of barrettes worth a dollar and she was charged with theft. She had money in her pocket and it was more a cry for help than it was anything else. Many people have the misunderstanding that shopifting is a kid’s thrill crime. Sometimes people act out and do it for the vicarious thrill or because they want attention because of stress in their lives.