A person commits theft in New Jersey by unlawfully taking or exercising control over the property of another with the intent to deprive the owner of the property.
Property includes anything of value, such as tangible objects, intangible personal property, and real estate. Deprive means to withhold property permanently or long enough to strip the owner of its economic value or to dispose of the property in such a way that the owner won’t likely recover it.
New Jersey laws also identify a number of specific types of theft offenses, including:
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:20-1; 2C:20-3 to -8, -11 (2020).)
New Jersey classifies many theft offenses according to the value of the property involved in the offense, as well as the type of property involved and the manner in which it was taken. Below is a summary of the different levels of theft and the possible penalties for each level.
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 or the stolen property is an electronic vehicle identification system transponder. A person guilty of this offense faces up to six months of jail time and a $1,000 fine.
Theft is 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. Fourth-degree theft carries penalties of up to 18 months' incarceration and a $10,000 fine.
Theft constitutes a crime of the third degree if the value of the property or services involved is more than $500 but less than $75,000 or if the stolen property is:
A person also commits a crime in the third degree when the theft involves taking:
After a conviction for a crime of the third degree, an offender faces imprisonment for three to five years and a fine of up to $15,000.
An offender is guilty of a crime of the second degree if the value of the property or services involved is $75,000 or more or the property is human remains or a controlled dangerous substance in excess of one kilogram. It’s also a crime of the second degree to take property by extortion or take health care benefits by fraud or deception where the amount involved is $75,000 or more.
For theft as a crime of the second degree, punishment includes five to ten years of incarceration and a fine of up to $150,000.
New Jersey law provides for harsher penalties if the offender is a fiduciary (such as a guardian or trustee). A guilty fiduciary faces additional monetary penalties of $500 for a crime of the third degree, $2,500 for a crime of the second degree, and $5,000 for a crime in the first degree or a repeat offense.
Furthermore, in cases where the stolen property is a motor vehicle, the court can order higher monetary penalties, as well as suspend or revoke the defendant’s driving privileges. The fines and revocation period increase with each subsequent offense.
In addition to imprisonment and fines, 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 their monetary losses associated with the theft.
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:20-2, -2.1, -2.5; 2C:43-3, -6, -8 (2020).)
Like many states, New Jersey’s shoplifting laws provide for both criminal and civil penalties.
A person commits shoplifting by intentionally doing any of the following acts without the merchant’s consent and with the intent to deprive the merchant of the goods or their full retail value:
Shoplifting penalties are based on the value of the merchandise involved:
The fines and terms of imprisonment mirror those of the theft offenses and are based on the degree of offense (see above). A judge must also order the shoplifter to perform community service for at least 10 days and up to 25 days.
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting or steals food or drinks from an eating establishment in New Jersey (or the parent or legal guardian of a person who commits these acts) can be civilly liable to the merchant or store owner for the following damages:
These civil penalty provisions do not apply in any case where the value of the merchandise is more than $500.
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2A:61C-1, 2C:20-11 (2020).)
If you have been charged in New Jersey with theft or a related crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney today. An experienced attorney can help guide you through the process and discuss all possible legal remedies for your unique situation.