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Shoplifting in New Jersey and Its Effect on Citizenship

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2014 | Citizenship and Naturalization, Criminal Law & Municipal Court |

One of the more common crimes that occur in New Jersey is the offense of shoplifting. Shoplifting is a criminal offense codified in NJSA 2C:20-11, and the penalties can be very severe. Shoplifting is considered a crime of the second degree if the full retail value of the merchandise is $75,000 or more. It is a crime of the third degree if the value exceeds $500 but is less than $75,000. Shoplifting is a fourth degree crime if the value is at least $200 but does not exceed $500. If the amount alleged to be stolen is less than $200, the offense is treated as a disorderly persons offense.

For the non-citizen, the legal consequences of shoplifting can go much further than potential imprisonment and a criminal record: a conviction could potentially lead to a charge of deportability by the Department of Homeland Security. It could further render an alien inadmissible to the United States under certain circumstances. Assuming that the conviction does not render an alien deportable or inadmissible, the next logical question most people have is whether a conviction would disqualify someone from naturalization, or US citizenship. This, unfortunately, like most immigration questions is complicated. It is not black and white.

Should a lawful permanent resident (LPR) wish to apply for naturalization, he or she will have to show good moral character. If an LPR has pled guilty to shoplifting during the statutory period being considered for good moral character, citizenship could be problematic. This is because conviction of a crime(s) of involving moral mortuptiude could be used as a basis to deny the N-400. Generally speaking, a crime of moral turpitude is a crime that involves “evil intent,” or crime knowingly committed with awareness of its criminal nature. Shoplifting could be considered a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.

On the other hand, we have successfully helped many people naturalize in spite of their conviction through use of the Petty Offense Exception. Under this exception, a CIMT can be waived for purposes of naturalization if: (1) the “petty offense” is the only CIMT ever committed; (2) the alien was sentenced to six months or less of imprisonment; and (3) the maximum possible sentencing exposure for the crime did not exceed one year in jail. There are, of course, exceptions to exceptions so anyone who potentially qualifies under this rule needs to consult with an attorney to carefully evaluate and confirm whether the exception truly applies. For example, conviction of more than one CIMT will disqualify an individual from using/invoking this protection. On the other hand, what is a CIMT? Not all crimes or offenses are CIMTs. An individual who has only one CIMT but other acts or offenses that are not is still arguably eligible. The point is that this is a very fact and legal sensitive situation that should only be evaluated by a qualified immigration attorney because an application for naturalization could easily backfire, and not only lead to a denial but expose the applicant to removal proceedings.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest developments in immigration law, please subscribe to our blog feed by clicking on the “Subscribe To This Blog’s Feed” button on the right. It is important to understand that the above is only general information and not legal advice. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, please complete the “Case Evaluation” box to the right of the screen to get in touch with one of our attorneys.