Aggravated Theft in New Jersey

A theft offense is an act that deprives the rightful owner of their property. Theft may involve anything that has value including a type of property or service. The property may be tangible or intangible and theft may be committed by an offender who has an existing relationship with the victim. It may be a criminal act that unlawfully disposes of or withholds property so that the owner is unable to recover it.

The New Jersey statutes that relate to theft offenses are voluminous because the crime may be committed in many different ways and involve property or services ranging from somewhat minimal value to a very substantial value. The chart below contains the various levels of offenses that may apply to a theft offense.

Offense Level

Incarceration Period

Maximum Fine

First Degree

10 to 20 years

Up to $200,000

Second Degree

5 to 10 years

Up to $150,000

Third Degree

3 to 5 years

Up to $15,000

Fourth Degree

18 months

Up to $10,000

Disorderly Person Offense

6 months

Up to $1,000

It is important to recognize that the first through third-degree offenses have somewhat wide-ranging potential sentencing provisions. When imposing such penalties, considerations that relate to aggravating and mitigating factors are one critical means of determining what the specific sentence should be.

Aggravating vs Mitigating Factors

In criminal actions, the courts often weigh many factors or circumstances that may guide them in determining the appropriateness of sanctions and penalties. Aggravating circumstances are elements that heighten the severity or blameworthiness of criminal acts. When aggravating factors exist, the penalties are more likely to be harsh. The types of potential aggravating considerations vary by legal jurisdiction.

Mitigating factors are those that are considered to create a balance by weighing them against aggravating factors. A mitigating factor is essentially the opposite, as they may provide justification for more lenient sanctions or penalties.

Aggravating Factors in New Jersey

New Jersey addresses the topic of aggravating factors in (2C:44-1) titled “Criteria for withholding or imposing a sentence of imprisonment.”

  • The type or circumstances associated with the criminal offense and the role or involvement of the perpetrator. Perhaps the offense was particularly atrocious, cruel, or malicious?
  • The significance or severity of the losses or harm that the victim suffered. This includes whether the offender knew that a victim was quite susceptible or unable to respond because they were too young, elderly, in poor health, etc.
  • The likelihood that the party will continue to offend.
  • If imposing a lesser penalty diminishes the severity of the offense and creates distrust by affording leniency to those involved in official misconduct or corrupting public resources.
  • If the offender leveraged their role of leadership or a position of confidence to commit the crime.
  • Whether there was involvement in a criminal enterprise or the crime was part of a conspiracy to commit a crime.
  • The scale of their criminal record and the seriousness of prior convictions.
  • Whether the offender paid someone to commit a crime or committed the crime to obtain a financial benefit that had been agreed upon.
  • If the victim was a member of law enforcement, sports official, or civil servant.
  • Any need to deter others from committing such offenses.
  • The offense involved fraudulent activity against a governmental division or department.
  • The potential that merely imposing financial penalties such as fines or restitution (not incarceration) will create the perception that unlawful behavior is tolerable.
  • The victim of the crime was of advanced age or disability.
  • Whether the crime involved the usage of a stolen vehicle.

Theft by Extortion

New Jersey addresses theft by extortion in (2C:20-5) as unlawfully obtaining someone else's property or depriving the rightful owner of their property by the usage of threats. The victim may be threatened with potential detainment or bodily injury. The offender may threaten to reveal secrets, raise accusations, or other acts that are likely to create a detrimental effect.

Theft by extortion may involve several potentially aggravating factors. For example, the victim may be someone in an official capacity, such as a public servant that can ill afford to have their reputation publically questioned. The threats may involve violence and the potential for serious bodily harm. When the potential for violence is leveraged to execute a crime, merely imposing a monetary penalty may be perceived as grossly insufficient punishment for such acts.

Carjacking

The offense of carjacking (2C:15-2) by definition will generally involve aggravating factors. The offender commits theft of a motor vehicle that places the occupant of the vehicle at risk for bodily injury. The offense inherently creates aggravating circumstances by involving a motor vehicle. It is clearly an offense that justifies a sentence that will serve as a deterrent due to the potential danger to public safety.

Jury Role Regarding Aggravating Factors

The New Jersey courts have previously ruled that juries are not to assist “the judge to identify aggravating and mitigating factors.” The jury lacks necessary information for “establishing aggravating and mitigating factors.”

Assessing Cases Individually

The courts must conduct an “individualized assessment” based on the unique evidence in the case. A failure to closely consider the circumstances, even in cases with co-defendants “undermines public confidence.” It may create a perception that the courts are not thoroughly considering the factors unique to each case when making sentencing decisions.

Harm to Others

When courts are considering aggravating factors they may make a consideration regarding any potential harm that the defendant caused to other non-victims. These may include others who incurred indirect harm or were otherwise impacted by the same crime.

Importance of Experienced Legal Counsel

Courts are tasked with carefully considering both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in order to properly equate crime with a fitting penalty during the process of sentencing. Those who are serious about defending themselves should also carefully consider their options in legal counsel with proper diligence. A seasoned defense attorney is prepared to begin protecting your rights and challenging the evidence from the initial hearing onward.

New Jersey Attorney Defends Against Allegations of Theft

The legal profession has dozens of specific areas of practice. For example, attorneys may specialize in real estate, family law, tax law, immigration, etc. If you are facing serious criminal allegations in a New Jersey court, contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686.

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