Have you been charged with a theft crime in South Jersey? If you or someone you love has been arrested for burglary, robbery, or theft in New Jersey, you need to take legal action fast. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to aggressive client advocacy no matter how complex or serious the charges may be.
Our Atlantic City theft defense attorneys will fight hard to defend your liberties and will leave no stone unturned when examining the evidence against you. Our knowledgeable legal team has over 45 years of combined experience representing both adults and juveniles, and we are proud to offer free initial consultations. For a free, private consultation, call our law offices right away at (609) 616-4956. You will not be charged any fees, and we will keep your information confidential. Se habla español.
Definition of Theft Offenses in New Jersey
The basic form of theft under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-3 consists of taking something that does not belong to you or exercising “unlawful control over” someone else’s property. In cases where the item cannot be taken and physically carried away, you can still be arrested for transferring control of property you do not own, such as a building or non-physical funds in a bank account.
Theft crimes can also be charged under different statutes depending on how the theft takes place:
- Theft by deception under § 2C:20-4 covers stealing by use of lies or fraud.
- Theft by extortion under § 2C:20-5 covers stealing by use of threats of future harm or crime.
- Retaining property that you find without seeking its owner is a crime under § 2C:20-6.
- Stealing services instead of physical items is covered by § 2C:20-8.
- Shoplifting is covered by § 2C:20-11.
In addition to these offenses, you can also be arrested and charged with “receiving stolen property.” This crime covers possession of items that you know or should have known were stolen. Any time you are caught with stolen items still in your possession, you can be charged with this crime in addition to theft. In some cases, the police may be not be able to prove that you actually stole the items in question, but the mere possession of stolen items may be charged even without accompanying theft charges.
Types of Theft Offenses in Atlantic County
Theft offenses can be completed in multiple different ways. How a defendant commits a theft offense will determine what specific charges they will face. Theft does not always involve secretly taking something that does not belong to you. Theft could also be accomplished through trickery or deception, like when victims are deceived into giving their property to the defendant. Theft may also involve property that is not tangible, like services or intellectual property. Whatever your charges are, our Atlantic County theft attorneys are here to help. Below are some, but not all, of the various theft and theft-related offenses in New Jersey.
Theft By Deception
A defendant may be found guilty of theft if they purposefully obtained or received property from someone else through means of deception. There are multiple methods of deception when it comes to theft. For example, a defendant who obtains property under a false impression. A false impression could be lying about the property’s true value or claiming the property will be donated to charity when in reality, you plan to keep it.
Deception also occurs if a person prevents or hinders others from obtaining important information that might affect their judgment of the transaction. For example, preventing someone from checking stock market updates before buying their shares in a company might be theft by deception.
Even if the defendant did not create the false impression or other deceptive means, they may still be guilty of theft by deception if they know about it and do nothing to correct it.
Extortion, much like theft by deception, involves a victim willingly handing their property over the defendant. However, the defendant uses threats or intimidation to force the defendant to hand over their belongings. These threats can include threats of physical harm, threats to make false accusations, and threats to expose a secret. Extortion can include acts that are considered blackmail.
Extortion may also involve threats to withhold certain actions or things the victim needs to force them to cooperate. For example, a defendant could threaten to withhold actions as a legal or political official. For example, a mayor may threaten not to sign a local bill into law unless the victim pays them a bribe. A defendant could also be charged for threatening to initiate a boycott if their demands are not met or threatening to testify or withhold testimony in a legal proceeding.
The key element of extortion is the harm to the defendant is hypothetical. A victim need not actually suffer harm from the defendant’s threats for the defendant to be charged.
Theft of Lost Property
When property is lost or mislaid, another person may come along, pick it up, and decide to keep it. However, if that person knows who the property’s true owner is and does not return it, or at least make efforts to return it, they have committed theft if they decide to keep it. For example, if your neighbor drops an envelope full of cash, and the envelope is marked with your neighbor’s name and address, keeping it would be an act of theft because you know who the money truly belongs to.
Theft of Services
Tangible goods are not the only kinds of property subject to theft. A defendant may be charged with theft of services for stealing the services or labor of another. Theft of services often involves accepting services you know are available only in exchange for payment. Once services are complete and payment is due, the defendant might flee without paying or lie to avoid paying. For example, when people book hotels, payment is typically due at the end of their stay. However, if a person leaves the hotel without paying, they may be guilty of theft of services.
Shoplifting is one of the most common theft offenses and can be completed in various ways. Shoplifting can involve secretly removing merchandise from a retail store without paying or using deceptive practices to avoid paying.
Perhaps the most widely known form of shoplifting involves sneakily removing and concealing merchandise before leaving a store without paying. For example, a defendant who discretely slips a bracelet in their purse in a jewelry store may be charged with shoplifting.
Shoplifting also involves methods of underpaying or not paying the full price of the merchandise. This is common at self-checkout stations where a defendant could ring up a grocery item as something cheaper and avoid paying full price.
Embezzlement is not actually a separate offense under New Jersey laws and is often charged under the statute for theft by unlawful taking. Embezzlement is a white-collar crime and often occurs within a business or corporate setting. The defendant is usually someone who works for the business but could also be a person in charge of the business, like an owner, manager, or CEO. The offense involves the defendant stealing money or property that they were put in charge of.
In most cases, embezzlement happens when an employee is put in charge of company funds or property and is responsible for directing the use of those funds. The employee then steals some of the funds or property and uses their position within the company to conceal their actions. For example, a person in charge of the budget for office supplies might secretly embezzle money from the budget and then falsify purchase records to hide their actions.
Penalties for Theft in Atlantic County
A theft conviction on your record can have a devastating effect on your ability to earn a living. Despite numerous laws designed to protect individuals with former convictions against employment discrimination, the fact is that many employers do not hire employees who have a history of theft.
Our attorneys fight hard to resolve these cases without a conviction. Since theft is a non-violent crime, hard work by a criminal defense attorney can often result in a disposition that does not involve a criminal record. Even if you are convicted, an experienced defense attorney may be able to lower your penalties to avoid jail or prison sentences.
New Jersey imposes the following penalties for theft based on the value of the stolen goods or services:
Theft under $200
- Disorderly person’s offense
- Up to 6 months in jail
- Fines up to $1,000
Theft of $200 or more, but under $500
- Crime of the fourth degree
- Up to 18 months in state prison
- Fines up to $10,000
Theft over $500, but less than $75,000
- Crime of the third degree
- Up to 5 years in state prison
- Fines up to $15,000
Theft of $75,000 or more
- Crime of the second degree
- Up to 10 years in state prison
- Fines up to $150,000
Theft penalties are also increased based on what you stole or how you stole it. Theft of certain items, such as credit cards, firearms, vehicles, or drugs can increase the penalties you face. Additionally, theft by extortion, i.e., using threats of future harm, also leads to automatic increases.
The fines for a theft offense can also be increased to cover the full cost of anything that was stolen. This commonly applies to third and second degree theft, where the fine is often lower than the value of stolen goods.
Theft of Movable Property in Atlantic County
“Theft by deception” is found in The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-3(a). Section 2C:20-3 covers “[t]heft by unlawful taking or disposition” and has 2 subsections: one for movable property like small items, cars, or cash, and one for immovable property like a house, a large structure, or non-physical money in a bank account. Theft of immovable property usually requires complex fact patterns where someone might sell someone a building or other interest they do not own, but the situations leading to theft of movable property charges are often much simpler.
The definition of theft of movable property is quite simple: anyone who “unlawfully takes, or exercises control over, movable property” without the owner’s permission commits a crime.
Another important detail of this definition is that taking someone else’s property is only theft if the actor does so “with purpose to deprive” the owner of the property. Simply put, this means that borrowing is not stealing. Taking something with the intent to use it and return it does not constitute theft, but it may be difficult to prove this kind of defense in court.
Examples of theft of movable property what you might expect:
- Stealing someone’s purse or wallet while it was unattended
- Taking items from someone’s bag or locker
- Stealing items from someone’s yard
- Stealing a car
- Stealing a bike
If the items were stolen through fraud, threats, or force, or if the items were stolen from the victim’s presence or from a car, the theft could be charged under another statute and potentially face upgraded penalties. However, you could still be charged with theft of movable property on top of that theft offense – but you will usually face penalties for only one of the offenses at sentencing.
Penalties for Theft of Movable Property in NJ
The penalties for theft are graded at different levels based on the details of the offense and what was stolen. The primary factor that ranks theft crimes at different levels is the value of what was stolen. However, stealing particular items like guns, credit cards, and drugs carries increased penalties. Stealing through threats or violence could increase the penalties as well.
In New Jersey, there are two main “types” of criminal offenses: disorderly persons offenses and indictable crimes. Disorderly persons offenses are similar to “misdemeanors” in other states and carry a maximum penalty of $1,000 and 6 months in jail. Indictable crimes (or simply “crimes”) are similar to other states’ “felony” offenses and carry the potential of over a year in prison and much higher fines.
The law uses different price points to dictate different levels of crime for theft charges:
- Theft of under $200 is a disorderly persons offense.
- Theft of exactly $200 is a fourth degree crime.
- Theft of $200 to $500 is also a fourth degree crime.
- Theft of exactly $500 is a third degree crime.
- Theft of $500 to $75,000 is also a third degree crime.
- Theft of exactly $75,000 or more is a second degree crime.
These offenses carry different penalties based on the level of crime charged:
- A disorderly persons offense carries up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
- A fourth degree crime carries up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- A third degree crime carries 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- A second degree crime carries 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.
If the property or money that you stole was worth more than the fine for that level of crime, your fine could be increased to cover the full cost of what was stolen.
The Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI)
Theft crimes are often appropriate for the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). This program will divert your case from Superior Court, the state trial courts in New Jersey. Instead of being sentenced to jail or prison, you will participate in rehabilitative services, such as community service. In this regard, PTI is similar to probation. However, PTI also has some additional benefits for defendants.
If you complete the program successfully, the theft charge will be dismissed after a period of time ranging from 6 months to 3 years. Perhaps most importantly, you will not have a conviction on your record. As mentioned, previous theft convictions can be absolutely disastrous when seeking jobs or loans, which makes PTI tremendously beneficial in the long-term as well as the immediate present.
This program is available on a one-time basis, generally to first-time offenders. Our attorneys will help you understand whether you are a suitable candidate for PTI and will fight hard in the interest of avoiding a conviction.
If you are charged with a lower-level theft offense, such as shoplifting or theft of under $200, you may be able to avoid penalties with other programs. In these programs, similar agreements to perform community service and pay restitution to the victim may convince a judge or prosecutor to drop the charges against you.
Our Atlantic City Theft Defense Attorneys Can Help
Dedicated and aggressive, our theft attorneys offer results-oriented representation from the outset. We serve clients throughout Atlantic County, Cape May County, and other locations throughout South Jersey. Contact the Atlantic City theft lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today for a free consultation. We are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, including holidays. Call our law offices at (609) 616-4956 to schedule your free legal consultation.