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State v. McCrae

July 22, 2010


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Docket No. 06-11-1045.

Per curiam.


Submitted June 22, 2010

Before Judges Carchman and Parrillo.

Tried by a jury, defendant Lashanta McCrae was found guilty of third-degree shoplifting of property valued in excess of $500, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11(b)(1). She later pled guilty to a count of another indictment charging third-degree conspiracy to commit theft, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2, in exchange for a sentencing recommendation of a flat four-year term to run concurrent with the sentence to be imposed on her shoplifting conviction. On the latter, defendant was sentenced, as a persistent offender, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-3(a), to a discretionary extended term of eight years with a four-year parole disqualifier. As per the plea agreement, that sentence was made to run concurrent with the four-year term imposed on defendant's conspiracy conviction. Defendant appeals, and we affirm.

According to the State's proofs, on June 2, 2006, defendant visited a Walmart store in Upper Deerfield, New Jersey. Her sister, Elena Brown, and Brown's three children, ages thirteen, fourteen, and sixteen, were also present at the store during defendant's visit. While at the Walmart, Brown and the juveniles filled three shopping carts with four plasma televisions, one computer, and a printer, valued at approximately $4600. After filling the carts, Brown and her children exited the store, where they displayed a receipt to the store greeter, Janelle Eckheard, before entering the parking lot. Defendant left the store a few moments after Brown.

Shortly after defendant left the store, the greeter entered the manager's office and informed Karen Saville, an assistant manager assigned to the electronics, photo, and cellular phone departments, about an incident involving defendant and the Brown entourage. Saville immediately ran to the parking lot, and as she approached defendant, observed electronic equipment being loaded into defendant's car, a gold Nissan Maxima. As Saville yelled that she needed to see defendant's receipt, defendant turned her head to look at Saville before driving away at a high rate of speed, coming very close to striking Saville as she backed from the parking space. Being so close to defendant's vehicle, Saville recognized an eMachine computer and a printer in the vehicle. As defendant drove away, Saville noted the vehicle's license plate number and its description, which was then reported to police.

After providing a statement to the responding State Trooper, Ronald Keller, Saville used the store's inventory system to determine what items had been taken without having been purchased. When merchandise arrives at the store, a member of management provides codes to verify its arrival and to download the new inventory into the store's system. As merchandise is stocked, an employee confirms that inventory is accurate. The store's inventory system incorporates handheld scanners that record sales for the previous five weeks as well as the items the store should currently have in stock. When an item is scanned through one of the store's cash registers, the purchase is reflected in the inventory system and the inventory is updated to indicate that the item was sold. Store employees physically check to see which items have been removed from the shelves and compare missing items to an electronic inventory. According to Saville, the store's system is an accurate method of determining if items had been shoplifted because shelves are restocked each night and the store's inventory is strictly accounted for.

Upon arrival at the scene and after speaking with Saville, Trooper Keller unsuccessfully searched the area surrounding Walmart for defendant's car, using the license plate number and description. Upon returning to the store, Keller reviewed the surveillance video footage, wherein defendant, Brown and Brown's three children were identified. The video clip recorded defendant interacting with Brown inside the store; Brown and her children passing the greeter and leaving the store; defendant exiting the store immediately after Brown and the juveniles cleared the door area; defendant rejoining Brown in the parking lot; Brown carrying an item that apparently would not fit into the Maxima to her car; and defendant driving the Maxima away after being confronted by Saville. The surveillance footage, however, did not show defendant pushing any of the shopping carts containing the merchandise.*fn1

After a warrant for her arrest was issued, defendant appeared voluntarily at the Bridgeton Police Station and was interviewed. After being administered her Miranda*fn2 rights, defendant gave a taped statement in which she denied being involved in the shoplifting or interacting with Brown or the juveniles while inside Walmart, other than placing a call to one of the children's cell phones. According to defendant:

Ah, um, I had went to the Walmart to talk to somebody that works there, Shamira Brown. When I got there I seen that my sister and my two nieces was there as well. And my mother-in-law and my father-in-law too. So I was talking to a few people in there and when I was at the register getting ready to leave out I seen [Elena], [and two of her children] leaving out. I was still at the register talking to Shamira Brown. Five minutes after they went out the store, I left out the store. Then the fat girl that called them, Genell, that works the door, she called them to come to the store or whatever. When I was walking out the door like she smiled at me, that's how I knew that you know they was in trouble, or whatever. So I called them on my phone, I asked them if they was. And that was it.

When confronted with discrepancies between her account and the surveillance footage, defendant simply responded, "ain't no saying what I said."

Vivian Rhett, a former Walmart employee, testified for the defense. She observed defendant holding a conversation with another employee, Shamira Brown, on June 2, 2006. While defendant was in the store, Rhett took a five minute break, and when she returned from her break, defendant was still speaking with the other employee. Rhett also observed Brown and the juveniles leave the store with three carts containing large boxes after handing the store greeter a receipt for inspection. According to Rhett, when the group left the store, defendant was still conversing with the store employee.

Evidently crediting the State's version, the jury convicted defendant of third-degree shoplifting. On appeal, defendant raises ...

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