Theft crimes are some of the most commonly-committed offenses out of all of the many various types on the books. Theft can be something as small as taking a candy bar from a store to as large as defrauding people out of millions of dollars through a clever scheme. Because these offenses can come in so many different ways, the laws that protect against theft need to be broad and all-encompassing in order to match their complexity. However, despite the fact that these laws may seem like they are complicated and confusing, at their core they are all bound by one simple principle that’s modified by the circumstances of the crime.
Here is a brief explanation of theft crimes and how they are charged.
The Value of the Property Taken
Every state charges theft crimes differently or calls them by different names, but each relies on one fundamental principle when issuing charges against those accused: how much was the property stolen worth? Theft of property that isn’t worth all that much is usually a low-level offense with minor penalties, while high-value theft offenses are generally considered serious crimes that can carry many years in prison and huge fines.
Degrees of Theft Offenses
In New Jersey, theft offenses are graded on a scale ranging from a “disorderly persons” offense, to a crime of the second degree. Disorderly persons theft charges are occasionally called “petty theft,” a more common title used in other states for similar offenses,” and are the least serious. These offenses involve any theft where the property stolen is valued at less than $200. If you’re convicted, you’ll receive no more than six months’ time in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 or double the amount of monetary damage to the victim, whichever is higher.
Above the “disorderly persons” theft offenses come three additional degrees of theft crime:
- Crime of the Fourth Degree: Crimes of the fourth degree are for theft offenses of property or services valued between $200 and $500. While the monetary value in this range is limited, the jump in possible penalties is pretty significant, with those convicted facing up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Crime of the Third Degree: Crimes of the third degree are a much broader range, with all theft offenses ranging between $500 and $75,000. This also includes a number of specialized and unique types of theft, including: firearm theft, motor vehicle theft, robbery (taking from the person of the victim), breach of fiduciary duty theft, prescription theft, public instrument theft, and several others. Generally, if an object is considered to be specially protected against theft, then stealing it is considered a crime of the third degree. This crime includes imprisonment for anywhere from three to five years and a fine not to exceed $15,000, unless the double the financial damage to the victim exceeds this amount, in which case that becomes the fine.
- Crime of the Second Degree: Crimes of the second degree are the strongest theft charges you can face in New Jersey, and include any theft of property or services valued at over $75,000. This also includes property stolen through extortion, theft of a controlled dangerous substance, or theft of human remains. Prison sentences for these charges include anywhere between five and ten years in prison and a fine not to exceed $150,000. However, like other theft crimes, if you steal something that has a value, when doubled, exceeds $150,000, then double the property’s value becomes the fine.