As a NJ defense attorney, I have defended hundred of shoplifting cases. As a former prosecutor I also have experience on the other side of the courtroom. I have also assisted many nurses and other medical professionals charged with shoplifting in NJ. The first question most ask is
“can you your nursing license for shoplifting in NJ?”
How Does New Jersey Define Shoplifting?
First, it pays to check the specific law about shoplifting in New Jersey. It is defined as any action with the intent of not paying for, or paying less than the full price, of an item. (This means it includes switching tags). The level of penalty is dependent on the value of the items taken. New Jersey has no formal divide between felony and misdemeanor, and shoplifting ranges from second through fourth degrees, with second degree being stealing items with a value of over $75,000. First time offenses with a value less than $200 are “disorderly person” charges, although you can still face 10 days in jail and may have to pay the store at least $150 in damages.
Can Shoplifting Cause you to Lose your License?
According to the New Jersey Board of Nurses, licensees should self-report a crime “involving moral turpitude.” They must also report a conviction that directly affects their practice. Shoplifting does not, of course, directly affect their practice (unless they are stealing from a pharmacy).
So, the question is whether shoplifting is, in New Jersey, considered a crime of moral turpitude; that is to say something which is not only illegal, but immoral. In general, shoplifting is considered a crime of moral turpitude, which should be self reported. The board also says that you can lose your license if you are convicted of certain crimes. These include offenses involving “perjury, dishonesty, fraud or misrepresentation, or sex offense.” Shoplifting is considered a crime, and may be considered fraud. So, at least under some circumstances, shoplifting can cause you to lose your nursing license.
In one case in 2013, a woman was denied her application to become a LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) in New Jersey over a shoplifting conviction. However, she had also failed to disclose that she lost her license as a home aide, as well as claiming the shoplifting had been expunged. On the face of it, therefore, it might appear that this case is entirely about giving incorrect information.
What if you Don’t Self Report?
It might seem that the logical course of action is simply not to self report the shoplifting. The problem with this is there is a high chance that the nursing board will find out anyway, as happened with our example at the top of this article. Misrepresentation on a license renewal is absolutely going to get your license revoked; the board is going to be wondering what else you are not telling them.
In other words, the best course of action is to admit what happened and deal with it at the hearing. You should not, however, say anything until you are actually convicted and mention if you are appealing. Typically, the nursing board will find out immediately after you are arrested. This occurs after your case is flagged and the incident reported to the Div. of Consumer Affairs.
Next, you will likely receive a letter from the board. The letter will request all relevant information and documentation regarding the incident. It will also request your continuing education proofs. The letter use to ask the nurse to provide their own written statement of what occurred. However, recent board letters have not requested same in my experience. This is important, as you have the right to remain silent in your criminal case and any statement you make can be used against you. We can help you respond to this letter without hopefully jeopardizing your career.
What Can You Do to Avoid Losing your License?
The first thing you need to do is contact a lawyer experienced with these cases. Best case scenario is having the charges completely dropped. In such a case, you will be entitled to an immediate expungement of your case records.
Next best outcome would in most cases be a reduction of the charges to a municipal ordinance. This can be difficult to obtain. Some prosecutors and courts will not do this under any circumstance. Others will do so only in compelling cases. A municipal ordinance conviction is not a criminal conviction.
Finally, two diversionary programs exist in NJ. They are 1) the conditional dismissal, and 2) the PTI program.
One option worth considering is a pretrial diversion. In New Jersey, there are two such programs. The first is called the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). You are only eligible for PTI if it is your first conviction. It should also be a third or fourth degree offense. First and second degree charges require the prosecutor’s consent which is difficult to obtain. PTI is intended to help with rehabilitation and deter future crime.
To get into the program, you must complete an application and pay a $75 application fee. You can also supply supporting information to help your chances. You will then be interviewed by PTI officers. The program considers a variety of factors when considering your admission. These include your age, whether there is a victim and their input, etc. A good attorney may well argue that the value of an experienced nurse is such that diversion is desirable rather than formal prosecution.
If approved by the program, you must then be cleared by the prosecutor’s office. They have the final say whether you get into PTI. If you are admitted into the program, you will be placed on probation with certain conditions. These can include drug testing, counseling, and community service.
The duration of the program is usually between 1 and 3 years. If you successfully complete the program, the charges against you can be dismissed. The charges can be expunged 6 months after completion of the program.
Another diversionary program available is the conditional dismissal program. This exists in Municipal Court. PTI is only available in Superior Court. The process for applying for conditional dismissal is less formal than PTI. Typically your attorney will negotiate your entry into the program with the prosecutor. The judge must also approve. The judge has discretion whether to allow you into the program or not.
A key difference between PTI and conditional dismissal relates to the plea requirement. In order to get a conditional dismissal, you must plead guilty. This can present problems for professionals like nurses. It can also be problematic for people with immigration concerns.
A nursing board is likely to consider enrollment in PTI or conditional dismissal as evidence of intent to rehabilitate and it may be sufficient to help you keep your license. If you fail to get into or complete the program, you may want to go to trial or seek a plea to lesser charges.
What if you are Convicted
You should definitely, as already mentioned, self report the incident. You should appeal the conviction. If you do not think you can, then showing remorse and pursuing some kind of counseling to prove that you intend to change can help, especially if it was a first offense. New Jersey requires new applicants to provide the police reports, judgments of conviction, sentencing orders and other documentation associated with a crime. Documenting everything is important. Ideally, choose a lawyer to defend you for the shoplifting charge who is aware of how it might affect your license and is less inclined to have you accept a plea deal which could still cause you problems.
Worst case scenario and you are convicted of shoplifting, then you will have a hearing before the board. At that hearing you and your lawyer will have a chance to convince the board not to revoke your license. If you have separate attorneys for each matter, make sure they are in communication and working together.
If you are acquitted, then the case should not affect your nursing license at all. So, you should focus first of all on the criminal case, hoping to avoid a conviction. It’s also possible that for a first offense that is ruled merely “disorderly” the board will hand down a lesser penalty such as a censure and a warning.
This is not something you should undertake on your own. You must hire a lawyer with experience in these cases who can help you navigate the complexities. Losing your nursing license can be a disaster and it can be very hard to get it back (and yes, other states will find out about it). What your best course of action is depends on the circumstances and your chances of avoiding conviction in the first place. A good lawyer can help you both defend yourself against the accusations and keep your license.