Legal Blog

Shoplifting Incidents Seem to Increase Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Author Clark & Noonan, LLC
Posted May 21, 2020
Category News, Theft and Property Crimes

While there is currently no hard data for shoplifting incidents during the coronavirus pandemic, some retailers and merchants are saying they’ve seen a surge in shoplifting in recent months. Many retailers are struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the purported increase in shoplifting seems to have made matters even worse.

A recent report from ABC 6 said Philadelphia convenience store owners are claiming that the city’s lax law enforcement amid the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase in shoplifting.

In March, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner said that the department would halt arrests for non-violent crimes, including drug offenses, theft, vandalism, prostitution, and other crimes, to prevent the overcrowding of jails. However, dozens of store owners have reported to local news outlets that criminals were emboldened by the lack of police presence. Members of the Delaware Valley Franchise Owners Association referred to the situation “the Wild West.”

However, some people in New Jersey and throughout the country are wrongfully accused of shoplifting every day.

Shoplifting Statistics and Incidents in New Jersey

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), over $13 billion worth of merchandise is stolen from retailers each year – approximately $35 million each day. The NASP also found that 1 in 11 people will commit the crime of shoplifting at some point in their life. Approximately 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years.

According to NASP, only 1 in 48 shoplifters are caught, and only about half of those individuals are turned over to police.

According to the Jack L. Hayes International Retail Theft Survey, in one recent year, over 432,000 shoplifters and dishonest employees were apprehended by 21 major retailers. The shoplifting apprehensions were an increase of 2.3% over the previous year, while dishonest employee apprehensions dropped almost 4%.

In New Jersey, news outlets have reported on a number of shoplifters who claimed to have the novel coronavirus at the time of their shoplifting spree. When three suspects were apprehended after allegedly stealing more than $2,000 in goods from a New Jersey Lowe’s store, one of the men admitted he tested positive for COVID-19, potentially exposing the four arresting police officers, a security guard, and two shoppers to the virus. In another story, a Camden, NJ, woman allegedly shoplifting spit on a ShopRite worker, stoking fears of coronavirus contamination.

The Real Problem With Claiming to Have COVID-19 During Arrest

Authorities are saying there’s a new type of shoplifter who claims to have COVID-19 in hopes of eluding security. These suspects don’t realize that a crime that would ordinarily be considered a petty theft could be increased to a felony robbery prosecution.

There was a recent case of a California woman who allegedly took merchandise from Target and walked past the cash registers without paying. When confronted outside, the Target security team said the woman approached them and purposely coughed in their faces.

Acts like these have been carried out throughout the country during the coronavirus pandemic. Criminal defense attorneys say people resisted arrest by either coughing at law enforcement or by claiming to have COVID-19 as their line of defense.

The woman at Target had shown no prior symptoms. Target security backed away, fearing for their safety, and the woman dashed to her vehicle and escaped. She could possibly face felony robbery in addition to shoplifting charges. The district attorney could argue she used force or fear to get away from security.

In the first case of its kind, the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco charged two women with federal robbery charges for allegedly coughing and saying “we have COVID” while stealing from the Walgreens pharmacy in San Francisco.

Potential Penalties of Coughing on Employees/Officers or Claiming to Have COVID-19

If you intentionally expose an officer to COVID-19, it may be considered an assault on the officer. People who use the virus as a weapon against a police officer will likely face a quick law enforcement response. Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey residents who refuse to obey the state’s stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic and assault police officers in the process will face stiff penalties.

Those who assault a police officer during the state-of-emergency face a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and 18 months in prison. Those who make terroristic threats toward a police officer will face even more severe penalties.

The Director of the Division of Criminal Justice for the State of New Jersey said potential punishments had been upgraded in some cases by adding second-degree charges of making terroristic threats during a state of emergency.

These crimes carry a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $150,000.

What to Expect If You Have Been Charged with Shoplifting, Robbery, Resisting Arrest

If you’ve been charged with shoplifting, robbery, or resisting arrest, your very first court appearance is called an arraignment. During the arraignment, you will be asked to enter a plea before the judge.

It is highly advisable that you hire an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney who can help you every step of the way.

It’s important to remember that the burden is always on the State of New Jersey to prove you are guilty of shoplifting, robbery, or resisting arrest, and that’s why having a skilled lawyer on your case is so critical. A thorough evaluation of the evidence, which often includes surveillance footage, store loss prevention reports, and police reports, we can provide a strong defense or highlight weaknesses in the State’s case.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer as Soon as Possible

If you’ve been charged with shoplifting during the coronavirus pandemic, the New Jersey criminal defense lawyers of Clark & Noonan, LLC, understand the situation you are in. Prosecutors are not always as interested in putting you in jail as it may sound. We should know, as all of us at Clark & Noonan are former prosecutors. Two of our attorneys worked for over 12 years as prosecutors for Monmouth County, where they handled hundreds of shoplifting and robbery cases.

To schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced New Jersey shoplifting attorneys, call us today. We can explain all your charges and potential outcomes. Our lawyers understand the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, and we will do everything we can to help with your defense.