Thanks for your reply. I am sorry for the delay. I stepped away from my computer
New Jersey's penal laws are a bit different that those of other states, because they don't call them misdemeanors
and felonies the way most other states do. Instead, they have crimes in various degrees and they have disorderly person's offenses.
How a shoplifting case gets charged in NJ has to do with the value of the property that was allegedly taken. When the value is under $200 dollars, it would be a disorderly person's offense. A disorderly person's offense has a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail and or a fine of up to $1,000. Additionally, there's a mandatory amount of community service as part of any plea.
A disorderly person's offense is NOT considered a crime in New Jersey but an infraction (a petty offense). That is, it is NOT the equivalent of what another state would call a misdemeanor. New Jersey law specifically states:"Disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses are petty offenses and are not crimes within the meaning of the Constitution of this State. There shall be no right to indictment by a grand jury nor any right to trial by jury on such offenses. Conviction of such offenses shall not give rise to any disability or legal disadvantage based on conviction of a crime."
However, if your wife were to take a plea here, it would turn up on a criminal background check and for certain purposes, it could count as a conviction. If your wife is not a citizen, and she took a plea here, she would have to disclose this offense to USCIS, because they would be able to see this offense anyway and if she left it out of an application, she could get in serious trouble. However if she did correctly admit to having the conviction for a disorderly person's offense, while USCIS might wish to know more about it, it is not serious enough to make her inadmissible or to subject her to deportation, as long as she does not continue to commit other criminal acts.
If she takes a plea it would not stay on her record forever. In New Jersey a disorderly person offense can be expunged 5 years after the completion of the sentence
. However, government agencies can always see what others cannot when it comes to background checks. Even if this gets erased as far as a regular employer would be concerned it would always be something that USCIS could see and always be something that she would have to disclose to USCIS as I already mentioned.
All of this is by way of saying that yes, she can take a plea if she wants and it can't hurt her green card, etc. but if the store is not going to come in and prosecute and the case can eventually be dismissed, that would certainly be better than any kind of a conviction.
The law will allow the store more than one chance to come in and show an interest in prosecuting, just like they did. If they repeatedly fail to appear your lawyer can move to dismiss the charges and the judge will eventually do so.
Shoplifting can be prosecuted on both a criminal and a civil level. A store does not have to choose to go forward as a crime or as a civil fine. They can do both.
The civil penalties are there to help defray the cost of the store's security system and theft
insurance. The criminal penalties are to punish the wrongdoer for the offense.
You would not want to call the store and offer to pay the fine if they don't prosecute. That would be improper, since the case has already been filed in municipal court and it could get your wife in worse trouble if the store reported that to the state prosecutor. Besides, as I have just indicated, the store is entitled to both civil and criminal remedies if it so chooses.
If you have already been contacted about paying a civil penalty, yes it should be paid. There are those who would say that a store is never going to come after you in civil court for a small amount of money, and they may be right. But again, your wife is not a citizen, so what she does or doesn't do in a situation like this would get looked at more critically as evidence of her character than for someone who is a citizen of the US.