Automobile & Motor Vehicle Theft
Former Prosecutor in New Jersey and Criminal Defense Attorney
The generic term "auto theft" is frequently used to describe a whole host of statutorily prescribed offenses related to the theft or unlawful taking of an automobile. Frequently, penalties are enhanced for crimes involving car theft, including but not limited to, large fines, lengthy license suspensions, and incarceration. If you have been arrested for a motor vehicle related theft offense, it is imperative that an experienced criminal defense attorney get involved early on in the process. If the case is at the pre-indictment stage, the attorneys at our New Jersey law firm may be able to help you avoid a first degree, second degree, or third degree indictment. If you have already been indicted, the criminal defense lawyers at our law firm will work with you to develop strong defenses against these serious charges. Our criminal defense practice, the Law Offices of John F. Marshall handles auto theft and carjacking cases statewide, including in Monmouth County, Hudson County, Union County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Mercer County, and Bergen County. Call today to speak with one of our lawyers or to schedule a free consultation.
Theft by Means of Conveyance and Knowingly Riding in an Automobile that is Being Operated without the Owner's Consent
Joyriding or Unauthorized Use of an Automobile in NJ
The relevant New Jersey Law is contained at N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10(a), 2C:20-10(b), 2C:20-10(c) and 2C:20-10(d) and provides:
a. A person commits a disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to withhold temporarily from the owner, he takes, operates, or exercises control over any means of conveyance, other than a motor vehicle, without consent of the owner or other person authorized to give consent. "Means of conveyance" includes but is not limited to motor vehicles, bicycles, motorized bicycles, boats, horses, vessels, surfboards, rafts, skimobiles, airplanes, trains, trams and trailers. It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under subsections a., b. and c. of this section that the actor reasonably believed that the owner or any other person authorized to give consent would have consented to the operation had he known of it.
b. A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if, with purpose to withhold temporarily from the owner, he takes, operates or exercises control over a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or other person authorized to give consent.
c. A person commits a crime of the third degree if, with purpose to withhold temporarily from the owner, he takes, operates or exercises control over a motor vehicle without the consent of the owner or other person authorized to give consent and operates the motor vehicle in a manner that creates a risk of injury to any person or a risk of damage to property.
d. A person commits a crime of the fourth degree if he enters and rides in a motor vehicle knowing that the motor vehicle has been taken or is being operated without the consent of the owner or other person authorized to consent.
A defendant is charged with a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10 under several circumstances. First, an individual will be charged with a Fourth Degree Offense if he did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the motor vehicle, but rather temporarily used it without the owner's consent. The nature of the taking (temporary) is what distinguishes this crime from auto theft. If the defendant is found to have driven the vehicle in a reckless manner during the temporary heist or joyride, then an indictment for the Third Degree Offense may follow. It is important to note that penalties can be imposed upon those who simply ride in the vehicle if they are aware that it is being operated without the owner's consent. Accordingly, it is not always the takers of the car that get charged with an offense under this theft statute. If you were arrested, indicted and/or charged with an offense under this section, your first step should be to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The lawyers at our New Jersey law firm are available to assist.
Theft by Unlawful Taking of an Automobile
Where an automobile is taken with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of the vehicle then that charge of theft by unlawful taking, i.e., auto theft shall be filed. The charge of auto theft falls under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3, New Jersey's Theft by Unlawful Taking Law. An offense falling under this law is ordinarily graded in terms of Degree of Offense ranging from a Disorderly Persons Offenses to a Second Degree crime based on the value of the property stolen. However, when an automobile is the subject of the theft (i.e. it is an auto theft case) then the charge and related indictment is, at a minimum, a Third Degree Offense. What this means is that if you are accused of stealing a car and the value of the vehicle is almost nothing, say $100, you will automatically face a Third Degree Indictment and up to five years in jail.
There is no denying the seriousness of an arrest, charge and/or indictment for motor vehicle theft. The charge automatically gives rise to exposure to prison of at least five (5) years and the penalties escalate from there. Choosing the right lawyer to represent you may be one of the most important decisions you ever make. John F. Marshall and the criminal attorneys at his firm have years of experience which they will utilize.
Additional Penalties for Auto Theft: New Jersey Driver's License Suspension
For the most part, cars are like any other property. The theft of an automobile is an offense that hypothetically could be charged under any of the theft statutes. A primary difference between auto theft and other forms of theft is, however, the enhanced penalties an accused will face if he is convicted stealing a car. These additional penalties apply whether the defendant is found guilty of unlawful taking of an automobile or joyriding under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-10. The additional penalties which apply to auto thefts are set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2.1 as follows:
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.
Please take note that if the offender is less than 17 years at the time sentencing, the period of suspension will not begin until the defendant is old enough to become a licensed driver.
Additional Fines for Auto Theft in New Jersey
N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2.2 prescribes additional fines if convicted of this offense and is set forth as follows:
Notwithstanding the provisions of N.J.S. 2C:43-3, if the fair market value of the automobile and its contents at the time it was stolen exceeds $7,500.00 and the automobile is not recovered, the court may sentence the defendant to pay a fine for that higher amount.
Maintaining a Facility for Sale of Stolen Automobile or their Parts
The penalties for this offense are set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:20-18 as follows:
a. A person who knowingly maintains or operates any premises, place or facility used for the remodeling, repainting, or separating of automobile parts for resale of any stolen automobile is guilty of a crime of the second degree.
b. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, any person convicted of a violation of this section shall forthwith forfeit his right to operate a motor vehicle in this State for a period to be fixed by the court at not less than three nor more than five years. The court shall cause a report of the conviction to be filed with the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles.
Please take note that a violation under this statute will result in an indictment for a second degree crime and a loss of license for a period of not less than three years and not more than five years. Also, like many other theft offenses, there is a requirement that the defendant acted knowingly.
Employment of Juvenile to Committ Automobile Theft in New Jersey
N.J.S.A. 2C:20-17 is the statute that criminalizes employment of a juvenile to commit automobile theft and is set forth as follows:
a. A person who is at least 18 years of age who knowingly uses, solicits, directs, hires or employs a person who is in fact 17 years of age or younger to commit theft of an automobile is guilty of a crime of the second degree. Notwithstanding the provisions of N.J.S. 2C:1-8, a conviction under this section shall not merge with a conviction for theft of an automobile. Nothing contained in this act shall prohibit the court from imposing an extended term pursuant to N.J.S. 2C:43-7; nor shall this act be construed in any way to preclude or limit the prosecution or conviction of any person for conspiracy under N.J.S. 2C:5-2, or any prosecution or conviction for any other offense.
b. It shall be no defense to a prosecution under this section that the actor mistakenly believed that the person which the actor used, solicited, directed, hired or employed was older than 17 years of age, even if such mistaken belief was reasonable.
The mere solicitation of a juvenile to commit a theft may be enough to sustain a conviction for attempted theft. This remains true whether or not the juvenile accepts the offer, or if the solicitor was reasonably unaware of the juveniles age, and believed him to be of age. Moreover, a conviction for violation of this statute will not merge, meaning the defendant may be found guilty of this offense and the underlying theft offense.
Leader of Auto Theft Trafficking Network
N.J.S.A. 2C:20-18 penalizes the actions of an individual acting as the leader of an auto theft ring, and is set forth as follows:
A person is a leader of an auto theft trafficking network if he conspires with others as an organizer, supervisor, financier or manager, to engage for profit in a scheme or course of conduct to unlawfully take, dispose of, distribute, bring into or transport in this State automobiles as stolen property. Leader of auto theft trafficking network is a crime of the second degree. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection a. of N.J.S. 2C:43-3, the court may impose a fine not to exceed $250,000.00 or five times the retail value of the automobiles seized at the time of the arrest, whichever is greater.
Notwithstanding the provisions of N.J.S. 2C:1-8, a conviction of leader of auto theft trafficking network shall not merge with the conviction for any offense which is the object of the conspiracy. Nothing contained in this act shall prohibit the court from imposing an extended term pursuant to N.J.S. 2C:43-7; nor shall this act be construed in any way to preclude or limit the prosecution or conviction of any person for conspiracy under N.J.S. 2C:5-2, or any prosecution or conviction for any other offense.
It shall not be necessary in any prosecution under this act for the State to prove that any intended profit was actually realized. The trier of fact may infer that a particular scheme or course of conduct was undertaken for profit from all of the attending circumstances, including but not limited to the number of persons involved in the scheme or course of conduct, the actor's net worth and his expenditures in relation to his legitimate sources of income, the number of automobiles involved, or the amount of cash or currency involved.
It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this act that the automobile was brought into or transported in this State solely for ultimate distribution in another jurisdiction; nor shall it be a defense that any profit was intended to be made in another jurisdiction.
A defendant who is found guilty of a violation of this section could face fines up to $250,000 and imprisonment of up to ten years. It is important to note that in addition to proving the core elements of a crime, the State must also prove the existence of a conspiracy. The State must prove that the defendant acted purposely to promote or facilitate the commission of the unlawful taking, disposing of, distributing, bringing into or transporting in New Jersey automobiles as stolen property. Additionally, the State must prove an agreement between the defendant and at least one other person that they or one of them would commit, attempt, or solicit the commission of the specified crime.
New Jersey Carjacking Offense: First Degree Crime with Mandatory Minimum Sentence.
Carjacking is a robbery offense, as opposed to a theft offense. Carjacking involves not only the taking or attempted unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, but also an element of violence or threat of harm to another.
NJ carjacking penalties are set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2 as follows:
a. Carjacking defined. A person is guilty of carjacking if in the course of committing an unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, as defined in R.S.39:1-1, or in an attempt to commit an unlawful taking of a motor vehicle he:
(1) inflicts bodily injury or uses force upon an occupant or person in possession or control of a motor vehicle;
(2) threatens an occupant or person in control with, or purposely or knowingly puts an occupant or person in control of the motor vehicle in fear of, immediate bodily injury;
(3) commits or threatens immediately to commit any crime of the first or second degree; or
(4) operates or causes said vehicle to be operated with the person who was in possession or control or was an occupant of the motor vehicle at the time of the taking remaining in the vehicle.
An act shall be deemed to be "in the course of committing an unlawful taking of a motor vehicle" if it occurs during an attempt to commit the unlawful taking of a motor vehicle or during an immediate flight after the attempt or commission.
b. Grading. Carjacking is a crime of the first degree and upon conviction thereof a person may, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:43-6, be sentenced to an ordinary term of imprisonment between 10 and 30 years. A person convicted of carjacking shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment and that term of imprisonment shall include the imposition of a minimum term of at least five years during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole.
The Penalties for Carjacking undoubtedly dictate the need for a skilled criminal defense lawyer. An arrest for carjacking is an extremely serious offense and a conviction thereof may mean a term of imprisonment of up to thirty years. If you have been arrested for carjacking, contact our law firm to discuss your case. Getting an attorney involved in your case early on is extremely important when facing first degree indictable charges. Negotiations with the prosecutor take place before an indictment is handed down. This presents an opportunity for your criminal lawyer to present available defenses that may be considered when deciding whether or not to indict, and what degree of offense the prosecutor shall pursue when presenting the case for indictment. A more detailed discussion of this subject can be found in our Violent Crimes practice center under the heading Carjacking Charges.
If you have been arrested and charged with any of the aforementioned auto related theft offenses, contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall today to schedule your free consultation, or to speak with one of criminal defense lawyers. We handle motor vehicle theft and car jacking cases throughout NJ, including in Monmouth County, Hudson County, Union County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Mercer County, and Bergen County. Get the experience of a former prosecutor in New Jersey on your side and do not let an inexperienced lawyer handle your case. The attorneys at our Law Firm will insure that your interests are protected every step of the way.