New Jersey Theft Laws and Penalties

Theft crimes quickly add up to indictable offenses in N.J.

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated 1/29/2024

New Jersey's theft statutes cover a broad range of prohibited conduct, including theft of property or services by unlawful taking, deception, extortion, and shoplifting, as well as receiving stolen property. This article will provide an overview of the penalties for these theft crimes in New Jersey.

For additional information specific to vehicle thefts, check out Auto Theft Laws in New Jersey.

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 several specific types of theft offenses, including:

The penalties for these crimes range from a disorderly persons offense to a crime in the second degree.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:20-1; 2C:20-3 to -11 (2024).)

How New Jersey Classifies Theft Offenses and Penalties

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, vessel, boat, horse, domestic companion animal, or airplane
  • a controlled dangerous substance in an amount of one kilogram or less and 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)
  • anhydrous ammonia intended to be used to manufacture methamphetamine, or
  • a package delivered to a residence by cargo carrier when the amount is less than $75,000 or undetermined (porch pirating).

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
  • the property is human remains, or
  • the property is 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 5 to 10 years of incarceration and a fine of up to $150,000.

Additional Penalties for Theft Crimes in New Jersey

Possible incarceration isn't the only penalty for theft in New Jersey.

Theft by Fiduciaries

New Jersey law provides 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.

Restitution Orders in Theft Cases

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 monetary losses associated with the theft.

(N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:20-2, -2.1, -2.5; 2C:43-3, -6, -8 (2024).)

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 for Retail Theft

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. A defendant guilty of a third or subsequent shoplifting offense must spend at least 90 days in jail.

Civil Penalties for Retail Theft

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 (2024).)

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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