Theft in New Jersey

The laws of the state prohibit obtaining the property of another person in an unlawful manner. Theft often occurs when someone assumes possession of the property of another without obtaining consent, through fraud or coercion, and more. There are many theft offenses that occur across the state each year. The New Jersey State Police data for 2017 shows there were over 7,800 robberies, more than 23,000 burglaries, and over 12,000 incidents of auto theft.

Theft Offenses According to New Jersey Statute

The laws broadly define theft-related offenses as acts that deprive the owner of their property. Property is simply anything that has value, whether tangible or intangible. It may include real estate, personal items, utilities, software, hardware, appliances, intellectual property, and much more. The process of depriving involves the disposing of the property so that the owner will be unable to recover it or otherwise withholding it permanently.

When the property is obtained by unlawful means it may be separated into movable or immovable categories. Theft of movable property involves depriving the owner of it by assuming possession or control. Although the movable property is able to be relocated without creating major damage, it does not necessarily have to be physically relocated, but rather under the offender's control.

The most common example of immovable property is a house. This form of theft may involve “unlawfully transferring interest” in such property. Unlike, with movable property, merely assuming control is not a crime. The crime actually occurs when the interest in the property is obtained for personal benefit.

Grading of Theft Offenses

First Degree

To constitute a first-degree offense the property must be human remains that are obtained through “deception or falsification.”

Second Degree

  • Any time that the value of the theft exceeds $75,000
  • When the property is obtained through means of extortion
  • When greater than 1 kilogram of a controlled substance(s) are stolen
  • If the property is in the form of governmental benefits, such as federal programs or those from some other agency, that is valued at more than $75,000
  • The theft is conducted by a person in a position of trust (fiduciary) and the value is greater than $50,000. An example would be embezzlement by an employee.

Third Degree

  • Any time that the value of the theft is between $50,000 and $75,000
  • If the theft involves property including a firearm, motor vehicle, aircraft, horse, or domestic animal
  • When less than 1 kilogram of a controlled substance(s) are stolen; this applies when the value is either unknown or under $75,000
  • If the stolen property is taken physically from their person
  • The theft is conducted by a person in a position of trust (fiduciary) and the value is less than $50,000.
  • The theft involves a threat; however, this threat is not deemed as extortion
  • The property stolen is a public record
  • If the property is in the form of governmental benefits, such as federal programs or those from some other agency, that is valued at more than $50,000
  • If the stolen property is used for research purposes--regardless of the value
  • The property stolen is a blank prescription (Rx)
  • The property stolen is some form of device used for access
  • The property stolen is anhydrous ammonia, which is a component used to manufacture methamphetamine

Fourth Degree

The value of the stolen property is between $200 and $500.

Disorderly Person Offense 

  • The value of the stolen property was less than $200
  • The property stolen is an “electronic vehicle identification system” receiver

Theft by Deception

A theft committed by deception is created through a “false impression.” One example would be gathering funds under the false impression that they are being used for charitable purposes. It may involve withholding key information relating to a transaction or by leveraging a fiduciary relationship. Deception is defined by the Federal Trade Commission as an act that is detrimental that may involve misrepresenting, omitting, or otherwise misleading someone. In this context, deception is used as a means of executing theft.

Theft by Extortion

The statute (2C:20-5) explains that theft by extortion may be committed by threatening to detain or cause bodily harm. The offender may threaten to make false accusations, reveal secrets, or cause someone in an official capacity to act in a manner that would be detrimental to the victim. For example, a perpetrator may extort something of value from a business or organization by threatening to bring about some harmful “collective action” such as a strike or boycott.

Defining Shoplifting (2C:20-11)

The crime of shoplifting involves assuming possession of, transporting or transferring merchandise belonging to stores or retailers without paying full retail price. The act is done knowingly and generally involves concealment. It may involve altering or transferring labels or price tags, as well as placing merchandise in alternate containers or packaging. It may involve intentional acts of manipulation that allow for “under-ringing” of merchandise. When two or more individuals are involved it may be deemed as an “organized retail theft enterprise.”

The following chart outlines the corresponding penalties for each of the different levels of theft offenses.

Offense Level

Maximum Incarceration

Maximum Fine

First Degree

20 years

Up to $200,000

Second Degree

10 years

Up to $150,000

Third Degree

5 years

Up to $15,000

Fourth Degree

18 months

Up to $10,000

Disorderly Person Offense

6 months

Up to $1,000

Receiving Stolen Property

The charge of receiving stolen property is commonly associated with acts of theft. The offender may not have initiated an act of theft, but instead knowingly receives some form of movable property that they assume or know is stolen. The term receiving implies obtaining possession or controlling property or title.

Common Defenses

There are various affirmative defenses that your attorney may employ based on the circumstances of your case. A defendant may claim they were not consciously aware that a property or service was unlawfully obtained. The defendant may assert that they were entitled to or were rightfully able to obtain the property. In a retail theft, the accused could state that they sought possession of the property with the intention of paying for it.

Experienced Defense Lawyer for Allegations of Theft

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has defended clients accused of theft offenses for many years in the New Jersey court system. He will seek to protect your rights, freedom, and reputation while challenging the facts and evidence specifically involved in your case. Contact the office today for a free case evaluation at (888) 535-3686.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today


When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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