New Jersey Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws

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Theft Defined Under New Jersey Law

New Jersey criminal statutes define theft as the “unlawful taking” or “exercising of control” over someone else’s property. The offender must act with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-3.)

New Jersey laws also identify a number of specific types of theft offenses. Here’s a list of a few (along with citations to the relevant New Jersey code section):

  • theft by deception (§ 2C:20-4)
  • theft by extortion (§ 2C:20-5)
  • theft of lost property, or property that has been delivered by mistake (§ 2C:20-6)
  • receiving stolen property (§ 2C:20-7)
  • theft of services (§ 2C:20-8)
  • shoplifting (§ 2C:20-11)
  • concealment of library material (§ 2C:20-13)

Theft Offenses and Penalties in New Jersey      

New Jersey classifies most theft offenses according to the value of the property involved in the offense. Below is a summary of the different levels of theft in New Jersey, and the penalties that might come after a conviction at each level.

Theft as a Disorderly Persons Offense. Theft constitutes a "disorderly persons offense" in New Jersey if the value of the property or services involved in the theft is less than $200. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-2(b)(4), § 2C:20-3.) In some jurisdictions, this level of theft is referred to as petty theft.

A person convicted of theft as a "disorderly persons offense" faces imprisonment for a term not to exceed six months, and/or a fine not to exceed $1,000 (or double the amount of monetary loss to the victim, whichever is higher). (§ 2C:43-3, § 2C:43-8.) 

Theft as a Crime of the Fourth Degree. Theft constitutes a "crime of the fourth degree" in New Jersey if the value of the property or services involved is at least $200 but not more than $500. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-2(b)(3), § 2C:20-3.)

Punishment for a "crime of the fourth degree" includes imprisonment for a term not to exceed 18 months, and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000 (or double the amount of monetary loss to the victim, whichever is higher). (§ 2C:43-3, § 2C:43-6.)

Theft as a Crime of the Third Degree. Theft constitutes a "crime of the third degree" in New Jersey if:

  • the value of the property or services involved is more than $500 but less than $75,000
  • the stolen property is a firearm, motor vehicle, vessel, boat, horse, domestic companion animal or airplane
  • the property is a controlled dangerous substance in an amount less than one kilogram, or with a value of less than $75,000
  • the property is taken from the person of the victim
  • the property is taken in breach of an obligation by a person acting as a fiduciary
  • the property is taken by threat that does not rise to the level of extortion
  • the property is a public instrument, writing, or record
  • the property is a New Jersey prescription blank
  • the property is an access device, or
  • the property is anhydrous ammonia and is intended to be used to manufacture methamphetamine. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-2(b)(2), § 2C:20-3.)

After a conviction for theft as a "crime of the third degree," an offender faces imprisonment for a term from three to five years, and/or a fine not to exceed $15,000 (or double the amount of monetary loss to the victim, whichever is higher) (§ 2C:43-3, § 2C:43-6.) 

Theft as a Crime of the Second Degree. Theft constitutes a "crime of the second degree" in New Jersey if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • the value of the property or services involved is $75,000 or more
  • the property is taken by extortion
  • the property is a controlled dangerous substance in excess of one kilogram, or
  • the property is human remains. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:20-2(b)(1), § 2C:20-3.)

For theft as a "crime of the second degree," punishment will include imprisonment for a term from five to 10 years, and/or a fine not to exceed $150,000 (or double the amount of monetary loss to the victim, whichever is higher). (§ 2C:43-3, § 2C:43-6.) 

Restitution Orders. In addition to imprisonment and/or a fine, the court may order a person convicted of a theft offense to pay restitution to the theft victim, meaning that the offender must repay the victim for his or her monetary losses associated with the theft. (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:43-3.)

Note on Motor Vehicle Theft. A person who steals a motor vehicle must pay a $500 penalty, and will be subject to a driver’s license suspension for a period of one year. (§ 2C:20-2.1.) For a second offense involving theft of a motor vehicle, a person must pay a penalty of $750, and face a driver’s license suspension of two years. For a third or subsequent offense, the penalty is $1,000, and the driver’s license suspension period is ten years. Moreover, if the fair market vehicle of the motor vehicle at the time of the theft is more than $7,500 and the motor vehicle is not recovered, the court may order the offender to pay a fine in that higher amount. (§ 2C:20-2.2.)

Civil Penalties for Theft in New Jersey

In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting in New Jersey (or the parent or legal guardian of a person who commits shoplifting) is civilly liable to the merchant or store owner for the following damages:

  • the value of the merchandise as monetary damages of not more than $500, if the merchandise is no longer in sellable condition
  • additional damages arising from the incident, and
  • a civil penalty payable to the merchant in an amount of up to $150.  (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:61C-1.)

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