New Jersey Theft by Unlawful Taking
Criminal Defense Lawyer & Former Prosecutor
Theft crimes in New Jersey are divided into numerous individual offenses and one of these offenses is theft by unlawful taking or disposition. An indictment for theft by unlawful taking or disposition can be a second-degree, third-degree or fourth-degree crime. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are prepared to defend you on these charges. Our law firm handles theft cases statewide including in Monmouth County, Hudson County, Union County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Mercer County, and Bergen County. In addition, the lawyers in our office, including Jonathan F. Marshall, a former prosecutor in New Jersey, are experienced trial attorneys. Please do not hesitate to contact our office for a free initial consultation as it is possible that an indictment can be avoided altogether or, if you have already been indicted, we will insure that your interests are protected, charges are dismissed and/or unnecessary penalties are avoided.
NJ Theft by Unlawful Taking or Disposition Law
The law is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 and provides:
a. Movable property. A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with purpose to deprive him thereof.
b. Immovable property. A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully transfers any interest in immovable property of another with purpose to benefit himself or another not entitled thereto.
Explanation of Law
Theft of movable property occurs when an individual “unlawfully takes” or “exercises unlawful control” over the property of another. The term “unlawful” refers to the accused’s knowledge that he was not entitled to take, exercise control over or dispose of the property. “Deprive” includes both permanent takings and temporary situations. It is also important to keep in mind that an individual need not actually take or move property for the offense to occur as all that is required is control. For example, it is sufficient to infer control when the ignition is started in the case of a car theft. By the same token, no offense is committed until control is actually exercised. See State v. ex rel. L.W., 333 N.J.Super. 492 (App.Div.2000). The accused must also intend to deprive the true owner of the property. Accordingly, where there is an agreement between the parties that the property is going to be returned or where the accused actually possesses a valid claim of right to the property, there is no violation. See State v. Taplin, 230 N.J.Super. 95 (App.Div.1988); see also State v. Lindsey, 245 N.J.Super. 466 (App.Div.1991). The property that is taken or controlled must be the property of another.
Where the property is immovable and N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(b) is involved, a person must actually transfer an interest in the property to commit a violation. Unlike N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(a) where “control” is pivital, actual transfer is necessary under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(b). Unlawful or unauthorized control of immovable property, for example, an unlawful occupancy, is not a crime under this section.
Grading of Offense: New Jersey Theft by Unlawful Taking
As previously stated, a complaint or indictment for unlawful taking or disposition can come in three (3) different grades under New Jersey Law, that is, second-degree theft by unlawful taking, third-degree theft by unlawful taking or fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking. The grading of the offense is predicated on the value of property or money involved: (a) it is a second-degree offense if the theft involved a value of $75,000 or more; (b) it is a third-degree offense if the value involved is between $500 and $75,000; and (c) it is a fourth-degree offense if the value involved is between $200 and $500. Please refer to our Grading of Offense page for more information as to the penalties involved. It is also important to keep in mind that the law permits aggregation of amounts in certain instances. In other words, the prosecutor is permitted to add together particular theft amounts and use the total amount as the basis for the charge. The result is that someone can be subject to, for example, a second-degree offense involving as much as 10 years in jail where individual thefts were limited to items well below the $75,000 threshold for a second-degree theft by unlawful taking charge. Aggregation of amounts is permitted under New Jersey Law where there is a continuing course of conduct, that is, a common thread running through each of the individual thefts which renders them part of a single scheme. See State v. Curry, 245 N.J.Super. 278 (LawDiv.1989); State v. Damiano, 322 N.J.Super. 22 (App.Div.1999).
If you have been charged with theft by unlawful taking or disposition under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 and are in need of a lawyer, please do not hesitate to contact our criminal defense firm with any questions. We handle these cases anywhere in New Jersey including Union County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Hudson County and Mercer County. An attorney from our office will be happy to answer your questions and/or meet with you free of charge for an initial consultation.