New Jersey Theft Defense Attorneys

     Theft is a very serious crime in New Jersey, and conviction for it is even more serious.  Our theft laws are governed by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2.  This statute sets out the various penalties for Theft, with a possible 10 years in prison, $150,000 Fine, and a Criminal Record.  

With such harsh penalties, it is important to have the best defense available.  With over 40 years experience as a Judge, Prosecutor, and Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Attorneys of Avery & Avery know how to keep you out of trouble.  As Criminal Defense Lawyers, we have mastered the identification of flaws in the States case, and will work with you to avoid a criminal conviction.


The following is a reproduction of NJ’s Theft Statute NJSA 2C:20-2.

a. Consolidation of Theft and Computer Criminal Activity Offenses. Conduct denominated theft or computer criminal activity in this chapter constitutes a single offense, but each episode or transaction may be the subject of a separate prosecution and conviction. A charge of theft or computer criminal activity may be supported by evidence that it was committed in any manner that would be theft or computer criminal activity under this chapter, notwithstanding the specification of a different manner in the indictment or accusation, subject only to the power of the court to ensure fair trial by granting a bill of particulars, discovery, a continuance, or other appropriate relief where the conduct of the defense would be prejudiced by lack of fair notice or by surprise.

b. Grading of theft offenses.

(1) Theft constitutes a crime of the second degree if:

(a) The amount involved is $75,000.00 or more;

(b) The property is taken by extortion;

(c) The property stolen is a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog as defined in N.J.S.2C:35-2 and the quantity is in excess of one kilogram;

(d) The property stolen is a person's benefits under federal or State law, or from any other source, which the Department of Human Services or an agency acting on its behalf has budgeted for the person's health care and the amount involved is $75,000.00 or more; 

(e) The property stolen is human remains or any part thereof; except that, if the human remains are stolen by deception or falsification of a document by which a gift of all or part of a human body may be made pursuant to P.L.2008, c. 50 (C.26:6-77 et al.), the theft constitutes a crime of the first degree; or

(f) It is in breach of an obligation by a person in his capacity as a fiduciary and the amount involved is $50,000.00 or more.

(2) Theft constitutes a crime of the third degree if:

(a) The amount involved exceeds $500.00 but is less than $75,000.00;

(b) The property stolen is a firearm, motor vehicle, vessel, boat, horse, domestic companion animal or airplane;

(c) The property stolen is a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog as defined in N.J.S.2C:35-2 and the amount involved is less than $75,000.00 or is undetermined and the quantity is one kilogram or less;

(d) It is from the person of the victim;

(e) It is in breach of an obligation by a person in his capacity as a fiduciary and the amount involved is less than $50,000.00;

(f) It is by threat not amounting to extortion;

(g) It is of a public record, writing or instrument kept, filed or deposited according to law with or in the keeping of any public office or public servant;

(h) The property stolen is a person's benefits under federal or State law, or from any other source, which the Department of Human Services or an agency acting on its behalf has budgeted for the person's health care and the amount involved is less than $75,000.00;

(i) The property stolen is any real or personal property related to, necessary for, or derived from research, regardless of value, including, but not limited to, any sample, specimens and components thereof, research subject, including any warm-blooded or cold-blooded animals being used for research or intended for use in research, supplies, records, data or test results, prototypes or equipment, as well as any proprietary information or other type of information related to research;

(j) The property stolen is a New Jersey Prescription Blank as referred to in R.S.45:14-14;

(k) The property stolen consists of an access device or a defaced access device; or

(l) The property stolen consists of anhydrous ammonia and the actor intends it to be used to manufacture methamphetamine.

(3) Theft constitutes a crime of the fourth degree if the amount involved is at least $200.00 but does not exceed $500.00.

(4) Theft constitutes a disorderly persons offense if:

(a) The amount involved was less than $200.00; or

(b) The property stolen is an electronic vehicle identification system transponder.

The amount involved in a theft or computer criminal activity shall be determined by the trier of fact. The amount shall include, but shall not be limited to, the amount of any State tax avoided, evaded or otherwise unpaid, improperly retained or disposed of. Amounts involved in thefts or computer criminal activities committed pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct, whether from the same person or several persons, may be aggregated in determining the grade of the offense.

c. Claim of right. It is an affirmative defense to prosecution for theft that the actor:

(1) Was unaware that the property or service was that of another;

(2) Acted under an honest claim of right to the property or service involved or that he had a right to acquire or dispose of it as he did; or

(3) Took property exposed for sale, intending to purchase and pay for it promptly, or reasonably believing that the owner, if present, would have consented.

d. Theft from spouse. It is no defense that theft or computer criminal activity was from or committed against the actor's spouse, except that misappropriation of household and personal effects, or other property normally accessible to both spouses, is theft or computer criminal activity only if it occurs after the parties have ceased living together.


The following is a reproduction of NJ’s Automobile Theft Statute (Grand Theft Auto), N.J.S.A. 2C:20-1.

a. In addition to any other disposition authorized by law, a person convicted under the provisions of this chapter of theft or unlawful taking of a motor vehicle shall be subject:

(1) For the first offense, to a penalty of $500.00 and to the suspension or postponement of the person's license to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of one year.

(2) For a second offense, to a penalty of $750.00 and to the suspension or postponement of the person's license to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of two years.

(3) For a third or subsequent offense, to a penalty of $1,000.00, and to the suspension or postponement of the person's license to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for 10 years.

b. The suspension or postponement of the person's license to operate a motor vehicle pursuant to subsection a. of this section shall commence on the day the sentence is imposed. In the case of any person who at the time of the imposition of sentence is less than 17 years of age, the period of the suspension of driving privileges authorized herein, including a suspension of the privilege of operating a motorized bicycle, shall commence on the day the sentence is imposed and shall run for a period as fixed by the court of one year for a first offense, two years for a second offense or 10 years for a third offense calculated from the day after the day the person reaches the age of 17 years. If the driving privilege of any person is under revocation, suspension, or postponement for a violation of any provision of this Title or Title 39 of the Revised Statutes at the time of any conviction or adjudication of delinquency for a violation of any offense defined in this chapter or chapter 36 of this Title, the revocation, suspension, or postponement period imposed herein shall commence as of the date of termination of the existing revocation, suspension, or postponement.

Upon conviction the court shall collect forthwith the New Jersey driver's licenses of the person and forward such license or licenses to the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles along with a report indicating the first and last day of the suspension or postponement period imposed by the court pursuant to this section. If the court is for any reason unable to collect the license or licenses of the person, the court shall cause a report of the conviction or adjudication of delinquency to be filed with the director. That report shall include the complete name, address, date of birth, eye color, and sex of the person and shall indicate the first and last day of the suspension or postponement period imposed by the court pursuant to this section. The court shall inform the person orally and in writing that if the person is convicted of personally operating a motor vehicle during the period of license suspension or postponement imposed pursuant to this section the person shall, upon conviction, be subject to the penalties set forth in R.S. 39:3-40. A person shall be required to acknowledge receipt of the written notice in writing. Failure to receive a written notice or failure to acknowledge in writing the receipt of a written notice shall not be a defense to a subsequent charge of a violation of R.S. 39:3-40. If the person is the holder of a driver's license from another jurisdiction, the court shall not collect the license but shall notify the director who shall notify the appropriate officials in the licensing jurisdiction. The court shall, however, in accordance with the provisions of this section, revoke the person's non-resident driving privileges in this State.

c. All penalties provided for in this section shall be collected as provided for the collection of fines and restitutions in section 3 of P.L.1979, c. 396 (C.2C:46-4), and shall be distributed in accordance with the provisions of N.J.S. 2C:64-6 as if the collected monies were the proceeds of property forfeited pursuant to the provisions of chapter 64. However, the distributed monies are to be used for law enforcement activities related to auto theft.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I be charged with both Burglary and Theft?

Often times a defendant will be charged with both Burglary and Theft, with the Theft being the predicate crime to the Burglary.  These are separate crimes, as Burglary relates mainly to an entry into an unauthorized location, whereas theft is the actual taking of something from that location.

If you have been charged with both Burglary and Theft, you may face up to 20 years in prison, and it is urgent to contact one of our experienced criminal defense experts immediately.  Avery & Avery has been defending our clients against these charges for nearly 40 years and will ensure your best chance of walking free.

I only accidentally took the merchandise, is this a defense?

Accidental theft happens fairly frequently and may be a defense in some circumstances.  New Jersey's theft statute, 2C:20-2, permits honest mistakes as an affirmative defense to the charge.  Even so, every case is very fact sensitive and require careful review, for a free consultation, please call 201-943-2445 to schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense experts.

The police are about to arrest me, what do I do?

In nearly all circumstances we tell our clients it is best to remain silent until they have consulted with us.  The police will try to have you implicate yourself, it is imperative you do not give them any more ammunition in order to convict you with.  If you are about to be arrested or have been, do not talk to anyone until you contact our criminal defense team.

Can I just pay the property owner (victim) back, and avoid prosecution?

It is often possible, as part of a plea agreement, in exchange for a reduction or dismissal of charges, it is possible to negotiate a payment of compensation for damage.  This is especially true with regard to minors.  

This is not always an option however, in many cases the bergen county prosecutor may wish to charge criminally and require compensation concurrently. Before doing so in either case however, you should consult our theft defense team as occasionally repayment may be used against you in court as evidence of guilt.

What is the difference between moveable and immovable property?

     The New Jersey theft statute entails all forms of theft, including via fraud or deception, identity theft, theft via computer, trade secrets, financial instruments, services, computer software, real estate, etc.  These are forms are property that may be considered immovable.  Movable property on the other hand includes cash, jewelry, cars, cell phones, and other goods that one may grab and walk away with.  In terms of penalties, it doesn’t matter whether the items stolen were movable or immovable property, generally only the value of the items matter.

What is the difference between 2nd, 3rd, 4th degree, and disorderly persons Theft in NJ?

This difference is solely based on the amount stolen.  Please refer to the right hand side column for the breakdown of penalties depending on the value of items taken.

How does the Graves Act (possession of a gun during commission of burglary) apply to me?

In NJ, under the Graves Act, an accused who committed any crime, including Theft (however this will generally change the charge from theft to the greater crime of Robbery), while in possession of a gun faces mandatory imposition of  parole eligibility restrictions.  This is New Jersey's equivalent of tough on gun violence laws.

If they have caught me and there are no defenses, what can I do?

In some situations the police have caught the defendant dead to rights and there are no defenses.  In situations like these we have often been successful in downgrading the offense to a far lesser penalty and no jail time.  Another approach is to enter our client into a diversionary program such as Pre Trial Intervention (PTI)  or Conditional Discharge (CD).  These programs provide the benefit of no jail time and no criminal record.  We have been successful with combinations of the two as well when dealing with high level offenders.

I have been convicted for Theft before, but in another state, how does this affect the case?

There is no step up provision for repeat offenses of theft, however if the other State's Theft law is substantially similar to NJ's, a NJ court will likely count it as a prior and be more inclined to impose greater than the minimum penalties.  This could mean the difference between a possible 5 year sentence and a 10 year sentence.  If you have been convicted before for Theft, no matter the State, it is imperative you contact an Experienced NJ Criminal Defense Attorney.

Where do you practice?

Our NJ Theft Defense Attorneys regularly defend clients in Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Morris, Union, Sussex, and Essex counties.  We also regularly are able to have the charges downgraded and heard in the municipal courts of the State.

I only borrowed the car and was planning to return it?

This crime is whats called an unlawful taking of a motor vehicle.  This is a common offense, but one which still carries serious penalties.  If it was a vehicle you took, you can be charged for a fourth degree crime.  For the full statute and fuller explanation of New Jerseys unlawful taking law, see here.  Even if it is not alleged that you planned to steal the vehicle, you can face serious consequences.  For a free consultation, contact one of our New Jersey Theft Defense Lawyers immediately.

The stores security guards detained me against my will, is this a defense?

In some cases, where the private security of the store unlawfully detained a defendant, there can be a defense.  A store like TJ Max, Macys, or any other merchant can employ private security.  They are allowed to detain people upon reasonable cause.  They need a real reason for stopping you (it cannot be just a hunch, or racism) and must follow proper procedure.  If you feel a stores internal security violated your rights, contact a shoplifting defense attorney today.

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