The Criminal Definition of Theft in New Jersey

Being charged with theft can be a huge legal problem.  A successful prosecution could land you in jail for months or years depending on what was taken, and even accusations can lose you your job or ruin your reputation.  Many times, your defense will hinge not on what was taken, but whether what happened actually constitutes theft.

Under NJ law, theft is defined as depriving someone else of something that belongs to them.  In the case of moveable property, cash, or other items, taking it and keeping it will qualify as theft.  Many theft offenses have overlapping definitions, but the core conduct is the same.  Additionally, other offenses might have similar definitions, so it is important to know what is theft and what is something else.

For help with your charges, call the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 immediately.

Definition of Theft Under NJ Law

In New Jersey, we have multiple theft statutes.  They cover theft accomplished by different means – such as theft by unlawful taking under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-3 or theft by deception under § 2C:20-4.  But regardless of what type of theft offense you are charged with, the conduct that qualifies as “theft” is typically the same.

Elements of Theft

Theft consists of taking something 2that does not belong to you with the intent to deprive the owner of it.  So for example, opening someone else’s wallet, taking out their cash, and keeping it would qualify as theft because it meets every element.  However, taking money out of someone’s wallet and carrying it across the room to give it to them is obviously not theft because you were never going to keep it.  You also had permission to do what you were doing.

Things can get much more complicated when other specific elements are brought in.  For example, to convict you under § 2C:20-4 of theft by deception, the prosecution has to prove that you took someone else’s property (and intended to keep it) by lying.  The statute gives more detail about what does and doesn’t qualify as lying – such as including false impressions of the item’s value under this definition of “deception.”

Theft can also include theft of services, which is usually charged under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-8.  With theft of services, the service doesn’t belong to someone else, and you can’t very well “take” it.  Instead, the elements of theft of services are that you obtain services you know are supposed to be paid for but avoid the payment.  The means by which you avoid payment – e.g., by using a device to fake payment or by simply lying – does not change whether or not the crime’s definition applies.

Edges of the Definition

Sometimes the best way to see what is and is not theft is by looking at examples on the edge of the definition.

If you take money from someone’s wallet, that would qualify as theft because you know it doesn’t belong to you (it’s in their wallet, presumably with their ID in it), and you intended to keep it.  However, if they have a similar wallet to yours and you thought you were taking your own money out, then that should not be theft because you did not intend to deprive anyone of their property.

Similarly, it is not theft if you intend to give the money back or repay it.  In many cases, a temporary deprivation is enough, or you could be charged with attempted theft by “borrowing” something without asking.  But it nonetheless undercuts the intent to deprive element and might make what you did not meet the definition of theft at all.

Other elements can also be missing from a case.  For example, if you merely picked someone else’s wallet up off the table to see who it belongs to – or even to see how much cash was inside – that is hardly “taking” it and does not deprive the owner of it either.  If you have a reasonable claim that the property actually belongs to you, then it is not someone else’s property you are taking, so it isn’t theft.

All in all, our Wildwood, NJ theft defense lawyers can examine the facts of your case and help you determine whether what happened meets the definition of theft at all.

Shoplifting Definition in NJ

Many people are charged with theft under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-3 through § 2C:20-6, § 2C:20-8, or § 2C:20-9 – all of which have “theft” in the name of the crime.  But there is a separate statute for “shoplifting” under § 2C:20-11.

The definition of shoplifting is usually any theft that involves merchandise, but this is merely the definition under subsection (1) of this statute.  Subsection (6) is also quite straightforward: it is illegal to take a shopping cart off-site.

Other conduct can also be charged as shoplifting under the various subsections of this statute.  First, you can be charged with shoplifting if you merely hide merchandise with the intent to deprive the store of it.  Even if you do not get past the point of sale, it could already be considered theft.  Second, you can be charged for altering a price, switching bar codes, trying to scan the wrong barcode, or otherwise trying to pay less than the listed price.  Lastly, switching packaging can also constitute shoplifting.

Keep in mind that most of these shoplifting charges can come even if you do not get all the way past the point of sale or out of the door to the store.

Definitions of Crimes Close to Theft in NJ

Many people mix up and confuse crimes that are similar to theft, such as burglary and robbery.  While theft covers any taking, robbery specifically covers theft directly from a person using violence or threats of violence.  Burglary consists of trespassing with the intent to commit a crime inside the property, which could be theft or one of a list of other crimes.

Call Our Theft Defense Lawyers in NJ Today

For help with theft charges, call (609) 616-4956 for a free case evaluation with the Atlantic City, NJ theft defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych.

Our Awards & Recognitions

atlantic city criminal defense lawyer
atlantic city criminal defense lawyers
best atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyers
atlantic city criminal defense lawyer
atlantic city criminal defense lawyers
best atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyer
atlantic city criminal lawyers

Recent Articles

Free and confidential initial consultations are available 24/7.
Call (609) 445-3533.

Get a Free Case Review

Atlantic County Office
1555 Zion Road Suite 201
Northfield, NJ 08225
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 641-2266
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Cape May Office
106 North Main Street
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 465-6500
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Wildwood Office
3309 New Jersey Avenue
Wildwood, NJ 08260
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 522-3778
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Atlantic City Office
1125 Atlantic Ave Suite 500
Atlantic City, NJ 08401
Toll Free: (866) 330-4951
Phone: (609) 344-9958
Fax: (609) 641-3677
Atlantic City criminal lawyer