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NJ Theft Laws

We have gathered the following New Jersey theft laws and statutes for you.  Theft includes offenses such as shoplifting, theft of services, auto theft, and many other variations of unlawful taking of property.  The statutes provided below are meant only to serve as general information.  If you have been charged with violating one of the following laws, please contact Villani & DeLuca, P.C. at (732) 709-7757 for a free consultation.

Theft Overview

A theft offense in New Jersey can be a serious criminal matter depending on the value of the property involved.  The prosecutor has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the fair market value of the property.
Theft in New Jersey may be a second degree crime if the value of the property involved is $75,000 or more; the property is taken by extortion; the property stolen is an illegal drug in excess of one kilogram; the property stolen is health care benefits involving more than $75,000; or the property stolen is human remains.  N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2 was amended in 2013 to establish that a person acting as a fiduciary commits a crime in the second degree if the theft involves a breach of that person's fiduciary obligations and the amount involved is $50,000 or more.
Theft in New Jersey may be a third degree crime if the value of the property involved is between $500 and $75,000; the property stolen is a firearm, motor vehicle, vessel, boat, horse, domestic companion animal or airplane; or the property is an illegal drug with value of less than $75,000 or is a quantity less than one kilogram.  Other theft offenses that are considered third degree crimes include breaching a fiduciary duty where the amount involved is less than $50,000; a threat not amounting to extortion; theft of a public record; theft of health care benefits; theft of research property; theft of a prescription blank; theft of an access device; and theft of anhydrous ammonia to manufacture methamphetamine.
Theft is a fourth degree crime in New Jersey if the value of the property involved is between $200 and $500.  Theft is a disorderly persons offense if the value of the property involved is less than $200 or the property stolen is an electronic vehicle identification system transponder.

Theft Laws in NJ:

  • 2C:20-2.  Theft and computer criminal activity. – Under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2, theft and computer criminal activity are consolidated into a single offense, but under this statute each episode or transaction may be subject to separate prosecution and conviction. Theft may be a crime in the second, third or fourth degree, depending upon the value of the property stolen, the type of property at issue, and the manner in which it was stolen. There are several affirmative defenses to theft, and specific rules applying to marital property.
  • 2C:20-2.1.  Auto theft. – This statute defines the additional penalties for theft of a motor vehicle.  For the first offense, there is a $500.00 fine and a one-year suspension of the person's driver's license.  For the second offense, there is a $750.00 fine and a license suspension of two years.  For the third or subsequent offense, there is a $1,000.00 fine and license suspension of ten years.  
  • 2C:20-2.2.  Additional fine for auto theft. – When the motor vehicle and its contents are valued at more than $7,500.00 and are not recovered, the court may sentence the defendant to pay a fine for that higher amount.
  • 2C:20-3.  Theft. – A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes or exercises control over the movable property of another with the purpose of depriving the individual of that property.  Also, a person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully transfers an interest in immovable property with the purpose of benefiting himself or another party not entitled to that property.   Note that the basic difference between movable and immovable property is that movable property can be moved from place to place, while immovable property has a specific geographic location (as in a building or parcel of land).
  • 2C:20-4.  Theft by deception. – This statute defines theft by deception, specifically focusing on the legal definition of “deceives.”  A person deceives if he purposefully creates or reinforces a false impression with regards to the property at issue, or fails to correct a false impression, which he previously created, and which he knows is influencing an individual to whom he stands in a fiduciary or confidential relationship.  A person also deceives by preventing another person from acquiring information that would affect that person's judgment regarding a transaction.
  • 2C:20-5.  Theft by extortion. – Under this statute, a person is guilty of theft by extortion if he purposefully and unlawfully obtains the property of another by extortion.  Extortion occurs when a person purposefully threatens to do one or more of the following: inflict bodily injury or physical confinement or other criminal offense; accuse anyone of an offense or cause charges to be brought; expose or publicize a secret or fact tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or to impair the person's business or credit; take or withhold action as an official or cause an official to take or withhold action; bring about a strike, boycott, or other collective action; testify or provide information or refuse to testify or withhold information with respect to another's legal claim or defense; or inflict any harm which would not substantially benefit the actor but would materially harm the other person.
  • 2C:20-6.  Theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake. – This statute applies to a person who takes control of property that he knows was lost, mislaid, or delivered in error.  If the individual know the identity of the true owner of the property and intends to deprive that true owner of the property, then he is guilty of theft.  Note that if the individual believes the property was abandoned, or if he intended to return the property to the true owner, there is no theft.
  • 2C:20-7.  Receiving stolen property. – A person is guilty of theft if he or she knowingly receives stolen property or property that he or she believes has probably been stolen.  There are five circumstances under which knowledge (that the property was stolen) is presumed.
  • 2C:20-7.1.  Fencing. – Under the New Jersey fencing statute, a person is guilty of possession of altered property if he is a dealer in property and he knows or should know that the identifying features of the property, like serial numbers of permanent labels, were altered or removed without the manufacturer's consent.  A person is guilty of dealing in stolen property if buys or sells or is involved in the purchase or sale of property he knows was stolen.  There are two defenses to a prosecution under this statute, as well as several presumptions available in the prosecution of a fencing offense.
  • 2C:20-7.2.  Notification of theft of scrap metal. – State, county and municipal police departments may promptly notify scrap metal businesses of theft as well as information to identify the stolen metal, upon receiving reliable information of such theft.
  • 2C:20-8.  Theft of services. – A person is guilty of theft of services when valuable services are obtained by deception or threat, or by other means that enable the individual to obtain the services without making payment.  Diverting services away from someone, to one's own benefit or the benefit of another person not entitled to such services, is also theft.  “Services” include but are not limited to labor, transportation, telephone, telecommunications, electric, water, gas, cable television, accommodation in hotels or restaurants, entertainment and the like.
  • 2C:20-9.  Theft by failure to make required disposition of property received. – This statute is one of the New Jersey statutes that define embezzlement.  Under 2C:20-9, a person who obtains or retains property subject to a financial obligation or duty and who fails to make the required payment or disposition is guilty of theft.  Examples of this type of theft include the misapplication or misuse of corporate funds by an employee, the taking of construction money by a contractor for his own personal use, or the use by a financial advisor of client funds for his own benefit.
  • 2C:20-10.  Unlawful taking of means of conveyance. – The statute is divided into four sections.  Under section (a), it is a disorderly persons offense to take, operate or exercise control over a means of conveyance other than a motor vehicle without the owner's consent.  Examples include bicycles, boats, horses airplanes, surfboards and rafts.  Under section (b), it is a crime in the fourth degree to take, operate or exercise control over a motor vehicle without the owner's consent.  Under section (c), it is a crime in the third degree to act as described in section (b) in a manner that creates a risk of injury to another person or a risk of property damage.  Under section (d) it is a crime in the fourth degree to be a passenger in a motor vehicle that you know is being used without the owner's consent.
  • 2C:20-11.  Shoplifting. – The New Jersey shoplifting statute is divided into several different sections.  The statute defines shoplifting, describes the crime of shoplifting, lists the grades of the offense, enumerates the presumptions related to the offense, and delineates the rights of law enforcement and the shopkeeper to detain the shoplifter.  It is important to note that shoplifting is not only the removal of goods from the premises, but includes altering the price of goods, transferring the goods to a different container or display, or under-ringing the goods with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the goods.
  • 2C:20-11.1.  Guidelines for prosecution of shoplifting offenses. – Under this statute, the Attorney General must develop guidelines to ensure the uniform prosecution of shoplifting offenses.
  • 2C:20-11.2.  Leader of organized retail theft enterprise. – It is a crime in the second degree to act as a leader of organized retail theft enterprise.  A person is a leader of an organized retail theft enterprise if he conspires with others as an organizer, supervisor, financier or manager of a scheme to sell shoplifted merchandise.  Penalties for this crime may include fines not to exceed $250,000, or five times the retail value of the stolen property seized at the time of the arrest, whichever is greater.
  • 2C:20-17.  Use of juvenile in theft of automobiles, penalty. – A person over the age of eighteen who uses an individual who is seventeen years of age or younger to commit auto theft is guilty of a crime in the second degree.  Use of a juvenile in the theft of an automobile is a separate crime from the actual theft, and conviction under this statute may result in an extended prison term.  Mistaken belief that the individual was over seventeen is not a defense to this crime.
  • 2C:20-18.  Leader of auto theft trafficking network, penalty. – It is a crime in the second degree to act as a leader of an auto theft trafficking network.  A person is a leader of an auto theft trafficking network if he conspires with others as an organizer, supervisor, financier or manager of a scheme to take, dispose of, distribute, transport or introduce into the state stolen vehicles.  Penalties may include a fine not to exceed $250,000, or five times the retail value of the cars seized at the time of the arrest, whichever is greater.   This is a separate crime from conspiracy or other related offenses.
  • 2C:20-20.  Civil actions. – This statute allows the victims of theft to bring civil actions against the persons responsible in order to recover damages, including attorney's fees and the costs of investigation and litigation.  The parties responsible for the theft may be sued jointly or severally, whether or not the possession or control of the stolen property was shared.  
  • 2C:20-24.  Value of property or services stolen. – The value of stolen property or services, including the use of computer time, is the fair market value, including the cost of repair or remediation of damage, as well as lost business opportunities that may have resulted from such theft or damage.

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