New Jersey Theft Laws and Penalties

A person who commits theft or a related offense in New Jersey can face serious felony penalties, including lengthy terms of imprisonment and robust fines.

By , Attorney
Updated March 19, 2021

New Jersey's theft statutes cover a broad range of prohibited conduct, including theft by unlawful taking, deception, or extortion; receiving stolen property; shoplifting; and theft of services.

Theft Defined Under New Jersey Law

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).)

Theft Offenses and Penalties in New Jersey

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.

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 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.

Crime of the Fourth Degree

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.

Crime of the Third Degree

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 firearm, motor vehicle, vessel, boat, horse, domestic companion animal, or airplane
  • a controlled dangerous substance in an amount less than one kilogram or with a value of less than $75,000
  • a public instrument, writing, or record or a New Jersey prescription blank
  • an access device (such as a credit card or bank account number), or
  • anhydrous ammonia intended to be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

A person also commits a crime in the third degree when the theft involves taking:

  • property from the person of the victim
  • property by threat (not rising to the level of extortion)
  • health care benefits through fraud or deception where the amount involved is less than $75,000, or
  • property in breach of a fiduciary obligation where the amount involved is less than $50,000.

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.

Crime of the Second Degree

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.

Additional Penalties for Theft

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.

Restitution Orders

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).)

Shoplifting or Retail Theft Penalties in New Jersey

Like many states, New Jersey's shoplifting laws provide for both criminal and civil penalties.

Criminal 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:

  • taking and carrying away merchandise
  • altering the price tags or switching containers of the merchandise
  • retaining possession of, transferring, or concealing merchandise, or
  • removing a shopping cart.

Shoplifting penalties are based on the value of the merchandise involved:

  • Disorderly persons offense: Merchandise value is less than $200 or a person uses any anti-shoplifting or inventory control device.
  • Crime of the fourth degree: Merchandise value is at least $200 but not more than $500.
  • Crime of the third degree: Merchandise value exceeds $500 but is less than $75,000.
  • Crime of the second degree: Merchandise value is $75,000 or more.

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.

Civil Penalties

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:

  • the value of the merchandise as monetary damages of not more than $500, if the merchandise is no longer in a sellable condition
  • additional damages arising from the incident
  • a civil penalty payable to the merchant in an amount of up to $150, and
  • reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs.

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).)

Talk to a Lawyer

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.

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