New Jersey Court: Sales Tax Should Not Be Included in Sentencing

On December 21, 2022, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Decision determined that Eric Burnham, the defendant in the case New Jersey v. Burnham, was incorrectly charged due to the inclusion of sales tax while determining retail value of the stolen merchandise. In New Jersey, shoplifting is defined in the fourth degree as a retail value below $500, and in in the third degree if valued between $500 and $75,000. Third-degree is considered a more serious charge and carries a more severe sentence.

Because the sales tax amount was included when calculating charges, the total value of the goods in this case was reported as exceeding $500, enough to receive charges of third- degree shoplifting. Mr. Burnham pleaded guilty to a third-degree shoplifting charge for a video game console which was priced at $499.99.  The superior court found in this ruling it was incorrect to charge the case as third- degree shoplifting because it was only when adding tax that it pushed the value over $500.

The court was left to interpret the statue to determine what “full retail price” would be in assessing the value of stolen merchandise because the State Legislature did not include specific instructions regarding the inclusion of sales tax in the shoplifting statute. Superior Court Judge Joeseph L. Marczyk, in explaining his reasoning, pointed to the fact the statue regarding shoplifting highlighted fair market value of the item or items and that the purpose of the statute was to prevent loss of merchandise. He then ruled that since the tax amount was not inventory, it should not be included in value of stolen goods or affect sentencing.

As a result of this decision, Burnham’s third-degree conviction was reversed and remanded for resentencing with youth as a mitigating factor.

(New Jersey v. Burnham; No A-3519-20; Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, No. 21-02-0181; Decision dated 12/21/2022)

Posted on January 2, 2023