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Charged with theft? Here is what you need to know.

Theft covers a range of criminal offenses with various degrees of penalties. Depending on the nature of your specific case, you could be facing jail time, substantial fines, restitution and other punishment. It is in your interests to learn more about these types of charges and how you can defend against these allegations. 

Property crimes may not seem that serious. After all, no one was hurt and the value of the property may not be that high. In reality, any criminal conviction can leave a permanent mark on your criminal record. Theft offenses are viewed as a character issue, which can affect everything from job applications to child custody proceedings. Your long-term interests are worth protecting, and you will want to build a strong defense against shoplifting or theft charges.

Understanding theft charges

Theft is the action of taking someone's property without his or her permission with the intent of keeping it. The specific charges depend on the details of the individual situation, such as the type of property involved, the value of the property and the person's motives. New Jersey statute recognizes different levels of theft:

  • Petty theft (disorderly persons theft) – Theft of property with a value of $200 or less, such as retail theft (shoplifting).
  • Fourth degree theft -- Property valued at more than $200 but less than $500.
  • Third degree theft -- Property worth more than $500 but less than $75,000, or theft of a vehicle, boat, firearm or domestic animal.
  • Second degree theft -- This is the most serious category, involving property worth $75,000 or more, or charges of theft by extortion.

Petty theft is technically punishable by up to 30 days in jail, but it is rare that a person would be get jail time. However, the conviction on one's record could hamper future employment or educational opportunities. Starting with fourth degree theft, jail or prison time is a real possibility, in addition to thousands of dollars in potential fines.

An arrest does not necessarily lead to a conviction. The prosecution may have evidence that a person took property without permission, but proving criminal intent -- the intention to permanently deprive the owner -- is more difficult to prove. A criminal defense lawyer can challenge the evidence that a crime was committed or negotiate a resolution (such as restitution) that avoids a conviction or jail term.

Start working on your defense today 

It is in your interests to take theft charges against you seriously, even if it is not a major theft. Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible after an arrest or as soon as you learn there is an investigation into your actions. An assessment of your case with an experienced New Jersey defense attorney can help you understand how you should proceed.

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