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New Jersey: Theft of Movable Property NJSA 2C-20-3a

In order for the state to convict a person under the statute they must prove each of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. that the defendant knowingly took or unlawfully exercised control over moveable property.

  2. That the movable property was the property of another.

  3. That the defendant’s purpose was to deprive the other person of the movable property.

What is “movable property"?

The definition of movable property is broad and likely includes property one would not generally consider. Of course it includes cash, jewelry, computers, cell phones and tickets to the ballgame. It also may include theft of a pet, food and drink, running a cord to someone’s house and stealing their electric, trade secrets and a myriad of other things people usually do not consider. Generally theft of movable property cases arise out of someone stealing from the home, car or school locker of another person.

What about the requirement of “knowingly"?

The state needs not present witnesses to prove that the defendant “knowingly" took something. The circumstances of the situation can be used to prove knowledge. For instance a person knows or should know that they are not permitted to reach into someone else’s car and remove their backpack.

A defense to a proof that a defendant acted knowingly is mistake. A defendant may testify that when leaving the home of a friend they picked up a coat that was similar to their own not realizing the coat was not theirs and the owner had left his wallet in the pocket. If the coat is returned upon request or upon discovery and nothing has been taken from the wallet a defendant would assert the defense of mistake.

In the above case theft did not occur at the house when the coat was taken. The act becomes theft if the person realizes or knows that they have the other person’s coat and wallet and makes no attempt to return it or attempts to convert the credit cards or cash which may be in the wallet for their own use.

What about “purpose"?

A person’s purpose is a condition of the mind which can only be inferred by the circumstances of the defendant’s conduct. In the case above a person would not have a purpose to steal unless and until the discover they have the other person’s wallet and coat and decide to keep or use them for their own purposes.

Grading of the Offense

The offense is graded as 2nd, 3rd or 4th degree by the value placed on what was taken. (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.

Sentencing after Conviction

A person convicted of Theft under NJSA 2C-20-3a can expect to face the following consequences:

  1. Fines up to $1,000

  2. $50 to the Victims of Crime Compensation Board

  3. $75 to the Safe Neighborhoods Services Fund

  4. $33 Court Costs

  5. If the theft was of a motor vehicle a person may face suspension of driving privileges

  6. Jail sentence up to 6 months

  7. Payment of restitution

  8. Forfeiture of public office if the person is an elected official.

Some relevant Statutes:

1 N.J.S.A. 2C:20-1e - "Movable Property" means property the location of which can be changed, including things growing on, affixed to, or found in land, and documents, although the rights represented thereby have no physical location. Unless the character of the property unlawfully taken is in dispute, the Court may instruct the jury that the property so taken is "(movable) property" under the statute.

N.J.S.A. 2C:20-1g - "Property" means anything of value including real estate, tangible and intangible personal property, trade secrets, contract rights, chooses-in-action and other interests in or claims to wealth, admission or transportation tickets, captured or domestic animals, food and drink, electric, gas, steam or other power.

N.J.S.A. 2C:20-1b - "Property of Another" includes property in which any person other than the actor has an interest which the actor is not privileged to infringe, regardless of the fact that the actor also has an interest in the property....

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