Larceny is a broad term that encompasses many different types of criminal theft. While many states use the term “larceny” in criminal codes to describe stealing, New Jersey uses the term theft instead.
Under New Jersey law, an individual is guilty of theft if he “unlawfully takes, or exercises control over movable property of another with purpose to deprive him thereof.” Property is defined broadly and can mean anything of value. Moreover, the definition encompasses both tangible and intangible property. The New Jersey criminal code distinguishes between theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft by deception, and theft by extortion. Shoplifting, auto-theft, or other unlawful takings of property are also considered theft offenses in New Jersey.
Theft charges typically vary depending on the value of the property stolen. In New Jersey theft can be a second, third or fourth degree crime. Additionally, lesser degrees of theft may be classified as a disorderly persons offense or a misdemeanor.
You may face a second-degree theft charge if the value of the item stolen exceeds $75,000. This charge has a potential sentence of up to 10 years in jail. Additionally, property taken by extortion, regardless of value, can lead to a second-degree theft charge. New Jersey law also classifies theft as a second-degree crime if the property stolen is an illegal drug of at least one kilogram, or human remains. If the value of the property stolen exceeds $500, but is less than $75,000, it can be charged as a third-degree crime. For a third-degree theft charge, the maximum potential sentence is five years. Theft may also be considered a third-degree crime if the property stolen is a firearm, motor vehicle, vessel, boat, horse, or domestic companion.
Theft may also be charged as a fourth-degree crime if the value of the stolen property exceeds $200, but remains under $500. This charge may carry with it up to 18 months in jail. Finally, theft can be charged as a disorderly persons offense if the amount stolen is less than $200. A disorderly persons offense has a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail. Shoplifting is considered a petty-theft crime that comes with penalties. Petty-theft is typically charged as a misdemeanor if it is a first offense. Additionally, if the value of the property stolen is between $50 and $400, it can be classified as a misdemeanor.
There are several affirmative defenses to theft by unlawful taking in New Jersey. One of the most common defenses to theft is known as the claim of right doctrine. You may have a valid defense to a theft charge if you can demonstrate that you believed you had a claim to the property. Additionally, a prosecutor must prove a defendant knowingly took the property of another. As a result, another viable defense to a theft charge is that the property was taken by mistake.