A Guide to New Jersey’s Theft Laws
This article is meant as an informational guide to common questions about New Jersey’s theft laws and is not a substitute for legal counsel. If you have been accused or charged with theft, you should consult a criminal defense lawyer immediately.
Always remember that you have the right to have an attorney when questioned by police. If detained, do not answer questions without a lawyer present or waive your right to remain silent. If you need a criminal defense attorney in South Jersey, contact Aita Law, LLC to schedule a free consultation at (856) 287-7800.
What is Theft in New Jersey?
The legal definition for theft of movable property: A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with purpose to deprive him thereof.
In layman’s terms, theft is about taking property which doesn’t belong to you. This ranges from concrete examples like stealing a television to more abstract forms of theft, like the use of deception or false documents to obtain something of value.
The element of unlawful control can include financial crimes like a trustee acting outside his authority. Threats or blackmail are covered under New Jersey’s definition of theft by extortion.
Theft of services in New Jersey includes both the direct theft of public utilities and actions which are meant to avoid paying for a service, such as leaving a restaurant before the bill has been paid.
Is theft in New Jersey a felony?
The charges for theft, and the possible penalties, depend on the value of the property you are accused of stealing and aggravating circumstances, like the use of a weapon or a vehicle to commit the crime.
New Jersey does not classify crimes as “felonies” or “misdemeanors” like many other states. Instead, crimes are called disorderly persons offenses, which broadly match up with neighboring states misdemeanors, and indictable offenses, New Jersey’s term for felonies. This unfamiliar language can be confusing for many people trying to understand the legal jeopardy they or a close family member are in.
What is Grand Theft in New Jersey?
Popular crime dramas and video games have made terms like grand theft and grand larceny well known to the general public. The terms refer to the theft of property above a fixed dollar value, as opposed to petty theft or petty larceny. While these are popular terms for crimes of theft across the U.S., Canada, and England, New Jersey does not use those specific names. If you are trying to understand New Jersey laws in context of neighboring states, grand theft would be similar to the various classes of indictable offenses for theft in New Jersey.
What Factors Determine the Charges I Could Face?
Theft charges are based on a consideration of several factors, including:
- What type of theft was committed? New Jersey law has separate definitions for extortion, shoplifting, stealing library or archival items, and many more types of theft.
- How valuable were the stolen items?
- Do you have a criminal record or history of theft?
- Were weapons or the threat of violence used during the theft?
These factors will affect both what charges you could face if accused of theft, and what penalties you could suffer if convicted.
Property Value and Theft Charges
Absent other aggravating factors, the value of the property stolen plays a large role in determining what crimes you can be charged with in New Jersey.
- Theft of less than $200 constitutes a disorderly person’s offense (misdemeanor)
- Theft of at least $200 and not more than $500 constitutes a crime of the fourth degree (felony).
- Theft of property or services valued more than $500 but less than $75,000 is a crime of the third degree (felony).
- Theft of property worth $75,000 dollars or more is a crime of the second degree (felony).
While the value of the stolen property creates a baseline when determining what prosecutors may charge you with, there are certain circumstances could lead to a theft of a low value item carrying decades in prison if found guilty. Among these:
- Theft of more than 1kg of a controlled dangerous substance is a crime of the second degree, regardless of the monetary value of the substance.
- Theft of human remains is a crime of the second degree. Theft of a body by deception or false documents is a crime of the first degree.
- Theft of companion or service animals is a crime of the third degree.
- Theft of firearms is a crime of the third degree.
What are the penalties for theft in New Jersey?
- Disorderly Person’s Offenses: Up to six months in jail and $1,000 in restitution.
- Crimes of the Fourth Degree: Up to 18 months in state prison and up to $10,000 dollars.
- Crimes of the Third Degree: 3 to 5 years in state prison and up to $15,000.
- Crimes of the Second Degree: 5 to 10 years in state prison and up to $150,000.
- Crimes of the First Degree: 10 to 20 years in state prison and up to $200,000.
These are only the base penalties for theft in New Jersey. Depending on circumstances, courts can order you to pay restitution up to twice the value of the stolen property or service, and certain kinds of armed robbery or theft of controlled drugs can lead to longer prison terms. If you are facing theft charges, it is imperative that you retain a defense lawyer. Facing detectives and the court with a public defender or no counsel at all, you are much more likely to be charged, and subsequently found guilty.
Avoiding Jail with Diversionary Programs
If you are a first time offender and committed a non-violent theft, you may be eligible for several diversionary programs. These are rehabilitation programs designed to give qualifying people a second chance, and if successfully completed, will leave you without a criminal conviction on your records. Your defense lawyer may be able to negotiate entry into a diversionary program as an alternative to criminal prosecution.
- NJ Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI): Open to first time offenders guilty of disorderly persons offenses or lesser criminal charges, a PTI program requires you to perform community service and/or pay restitution under the supervision of the program for up to three years. If successfully completed, you will leave the program with no criminal record. Breaching the conditions of your PTI program could lead to further prosecution.
- Conditional Dismissal: Only open to first time offenders guilty of disorderly persons offenses, CD offers a second chance to first time offenders. If granted, conditional dismissal will leave the defendant with no criminal record so long as they avoid recidivism. The program is not open to those who committed a crime against a minor or an elderly person, as part of gang activity, or when the theft constitutes a breach of the public trust by a government official.
Protect Your Freedom
Hopefully it is clear just how serious charges of theft can be in New Jersey, and why you should have a defense lawyer at your side when law enforcement wants to interrogate you about your alleged role in a theft. Even if you are innocent, law enforcement will often try to pressure you into signing a confession or pleading to a lesser charge.
IIf you need a criminal defense lawyer in South Jersey to defend against theft and similar charges, consider the services of Kenneth D. Aita. He has the knowledge of criminal law and the track record of success to provide you the best legal defense possible. To schedule a consultation, call Aita Law, LLC at (856) 287-7800.