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South Jersey Theft Defense Attorney

Theft is one of those offenses that everyone has a general understanding of.  We all know it is against the law to take something that does not belong to you, but theft does include some more confusing aspects.

If you are facing theft or receiving stolen property charges in New Jersey, you may be more interested about what potential penalties you might be facing.  Regardless, if you are facing charges, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you with your case.

Theft By Unlawful Taking

“Theft” usually refers to a group of offenses.  The core crime, “Theft by unlawful taking or disposition,” (N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-3) is the standard version of theft.  It requires all the following elements:

  • taking (or exercising control over)
  • the property of another
  • with the purpose of depriving the owner of the property.

You can also steal property that cannot be moved if you transfer ownership to someone else for their benefit.  That does not have to mean you take ownership, nor that it is your benefit; it counts as theft regardless.

These definitions mean a few things about theft:

  • You cannot steal property that rightly belongs to you
  • Borrowing is not stealing – there needs to be an intent to deprive the owner
  • You have no intent to deprive another if you wrongly think the property is your own

These are some commonly misunderstood aspects of theft, and even police, prosecutors, and judges get them wrong sometimes.

You can also be convicted of theft of lost property or property that was given to you by mistake if you fail to try and correct the error or find the true owner.  Keeping it as though it is your own property counts as theft under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-6.  You can also steal services, as covered by N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-8.

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Theft by Deception and Theft by Extortion

Theft can also be done “by deception” (N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-4) or “by extortion,” (N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-5) rather than “by unlawful taking.”

Theft by Deception

For theft by deception, the actor lies to receive property.  That can mean any lie regarding legal ownership, value, state of mind – really anything.  This covers things like cons and fraudulent purchases.  These lies must be related to acquiring the property, though – the simple presence of false statements (e.g. lying about your name) might not count.  “Puffing” or exaggeration also does not count as deception.

Theft by Extortion

Theft by extortion is theft through the use of threats.  They do not need to be threats of imminent violence, but threats of future violence, criminal reports, exposure of a secret (i.e. blackmail), official misconduct, a strike/boycott, court testimony, or financial harm all count as extortion.  If the threat is more serious and imminent, it could count as robbery instead.  Robbery is a much more serious version of theft that is accomplished through violence or immediate threats of harm.

Receiving Stolen Property in New Jersey

Receiving stolen property (RSP) is often charged alongside theft.  Whether you actually stole the property or not, if you are caught with stolen property, you can usually be charged with RSP under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-7.  For RSP, they must prove that you knew the property was stolen or believed it was probably stolen.  This can be proved a few ways:

  • They prove you stole it yourself
  • There are circumstances to show it was stolen (e.g. security tags are still attached)
  • You are caught with two or more pieces of stolen property two or more times
  • You were caught within the last year with stolen property
  • For certain businesses, if they do not try to confirm it was not stolen, they are assumed to know it was stolen
  • If the property is possessed alongside falsified credit cards
  • A shipment is possessed without the proper shipping documentation

Under any of these situations, they can prove you knew the property was stolen and convict you of RSP.

Shoplifting Crimes in New Jersey

Shoplifting is the last theft offense.  This includes theft from a store, but also includes things associated with such a theft that fall short of actually taking the items.  For instance, tampering with a security device, hiding merchandise (whether you actually carry it past the point of sale or not), taking a shopping cart away from a store, or putting merchandise into another container all counts.

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Potential Punishments for Theft

Theft offenses are graded based on how much was stolen.  That means that the higher the value of the property, the worse the punishment.  The way in which it was stolen also has an effect.

Ultimately, the following are the basic grades of theft crimes:

Second Degree Crimes

These are punishable by five to 10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.

  • Stolen property was worth $75,000 or more
  • Extortion was used
  • Stolen property includes more than one kilogram of drugs
  • Stolen property includes human remains

Third Degree Crimes

These are punishable by three to five years in prison and fines up to $15,000.

  • Stolen property was worth $50,000 to $75,000
  • Stolen property includes a gun, vehicle, horse, pet, or airplane
  • Stolen property includes drugs worth under $75,000, or less than one kilogram in weight
  • Property was stolen from the victim’s person
  • The theft breached fiduciary duties
  • A threat was used, short of extortion
  • Stolen property includes public records
  • Stolen property includes state or federal benefit payments less than $75,000
  • Stolen property includes research subjects/samples
  • Stolen property includes a New Jersey drug prescription pad
  • Stolen property includes a credit card or other access device

Fourth Degree Crime

These are punishable by up to 18 months in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.  This covers theft of $200 to $500.

Disorderly Persons Offense

These are punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.  This covers theft of anything less than $200 in value.

Contact a South Jersey Theft Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with theft in New Jersey, contact a lawyer.  You should never face criminal charges alone, especially when jail time is a possibility.  Any of these crimes could go on your record and hurt your future.  To contact the Law Offices of John J. Zarych for a free consultation with an experienced South Jersey defense attorney, call (609) 616-4956.