What is Considered Petty Theft vs. Grand Theft in New Jersey?

Petty theft, theft, grand theft, and grand larceny are all terms used to describe theft offenses.  If you were charged with a theft crime in New Jersey, it is important to know what your specific charges mean and what penalties you could face if convicted.

Petty theft refers to a small theft offense, usually consisting of theft of something under $200 or the offense of “shoplifting.”  Grand theft usually refers to bigger theft amounts, resulting in a bigger fine and more jail time.  Ultimately, the actual statutes in New Jersey don’t actually use these terms, but understanding these categories can help you understand how severe your charges are.

For help with a theft case, call the South Jersey theft defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (609) 616-4956 for a free case review.

Theft Offenses in New Jersey

Under New Jersey law, there are a few different theft offenses: theft by unlawful taking or disposition under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-3, theft by deception under § 2C:20-4, theft by extortion under § 2C:20-5, theft of lost/mislaid property under § 2C:20-6, theft of services under § 2C:20-8, and theft by failing to give back property under § 2C:20-9.  There are also some other miscellaneous theft offenses under other statutes in that area of the code, related offenses like receiving stolen property and fencing (i.e., selling stolen property), as well as a code section specifically for shoplifting (§ 2C:20-11).

There are some various differences between how the actual theft is accomplished for charges under each of these statutes.  For example, theft by unlawful taking is simply picking up and carrying away something that does not belong to you, versus theft by deception involves lies to get the money/property, and theft by extortion involves threats of future violence or harm.  Shoplifting deals with theft specifically from a store and makes it illegal to conceal an item on your person with the intent to take it, even if you do not ultimately make it out the door or past the register before being caught.

All in all, the specific statute you are charged under might be different based on how you are accused of stealing or even what you stole (e.g., with theft of services).  But generally, the amount of money stolen or the cost of the item stolen will affect the grading of the offense rather than which statute you are charged under.

Petty Theft in New Jersey

The word “petty” actually comes from the French “petit,” meaning small.  Petit theft, as it used to be called (but still pronounced like “petty”), refers to a theft of a smaller amount compared to “grand” (i.e., large) theft.  New Jersey’s theft statutes do not actually use the term “petty” or “petit,” but rather set a dollar amount for sentencing that indicates that this crime is of a lower level.

Most theft offenses in New Jersey share the same sentencing structure regardless of which statute you are charged under.  There are some items that automatically lead to specific levels of charges – such as theft of a gun, car, or credit card – but otherwise, the penalties are divided based on the amount of money you stole or the amount of money the stolen goods were worth.

“Petty theft” is usually considered theft under $200, which is the lowest tier of penalties for theft offenses in New Jersey.  Once the value reaches $200 or more, the penalties are upgraded.

For theft under $200, you are usually charged with a disorderly persons offense – New Jersey’s version of a misdemeanor.  This is technically not a “crime” and is charged and handled differently with different rights (e.g., no right to a jury trial), and it is ultimately punished by a maximum of 6 months in jail if you are convicted.

Grand Theft in New Jersey

The word “grand” in grant theft does not mean that it is some magnificent, elaborate theft, but rather comes from the French for “big.”  This makes “grand theft” a bigger theft compared to “petit”/petty theft.  Generally, in New Jersey, any theft offense of $200 or more could be considered “grand theft.”

Theft offenses involving $200 or more are all considered an “indictable offense” or “indictable crime,” which is New Jersey’s version of a felony.  That means that for each of these charges, there is a potential of over a year in jail.

For theft of $200 or more, up to $500, the offense is a crime of the fourth degree and can result in up to 18 months in prison.

For theft over $500 but under $75,000, the offense is a crime of the third degree and can result in 3-5 years in prison.  This is also the level of crime for theft of guns, a credit card, drugs, a prescription pad, or research materials; theft directly from a person; theft involving threats; or other particular thefts.

For theft of $75,000 or more, the offense is a crime of the second degree and can result in 10-20 years in prison.

Petty Theft, Grand Theft, and Other Theft Offenses in New Jersey

Whether the theft is accomplished through simply picking up something that doesn’t belong to you, lying to get it in your possession, or extorting it from somewhere else, those theft offenses are all called “theft.”  The distinction between petty and grand theft just comes from the amount stolen.

If the theft is accomplished through force, that is considered robbery.  Theft after breaking into a structure is burglary, but burglary can also cover other crimes than theft committed after trespassing.  These crimes have different penalties depending on the specific conduct and the theft amount.

Call Our New Jersey Theft Defense Lawyers Today

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

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