Transportation authorities in southern New Jersey put people who have failed to pay at least $200 in toll charges on the Atlantic City Expressway on notice this week: Pay what you owe within 25 days or have your vehicle registration suspended.

Kevin Rehmann, a spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, estimated that about 2 or 3 percent of motorists habitually fail to pay toll charges when they use the expressway and said that criminal complaints for theft of services have already been filed against some of the worst offenders.

To put that target figure in perspective, a motorist would have to make 27 round trips from Philadelphia to Atlantic City without paying any toll fees in order to exceed the $200 amount. Not coincidentally, any theft of between $200 and $500 can be charged as a fourth-degree crime in the state of New Jersey (as opposed to a disorderly persons offense) and is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.

While it may not be likely that the state will start sending toll violators to prison for a year or more, it is important for anyone who may be a target of this crackdown (or others underway on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway) to realize that being convicted of a crime for not paying toll fees can have much more severe consequences in other areas of life.

For example, if a prospective employer does a criminal records search on you (and most do), they’re not going to see a conviction for toll evasion. The first word they’re going to read after a conviction date is “theft” — and that’s a tough first impression to overcome.

For this reason and others, anyone who has been charged with a theft crime of any type should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer about their rights and defense options as soon as possible.

Source: NewsWorks New Jersey, “N.J. targets toll cheats on Atlantic City Expressway,” Phil Gregory, Aug. 13, 2012