Basics of Theft Charges in Metuchen NJ


Metuchen Theft Attorney Defending Clients Charged with Shoplifting, Burglary, Receiving Stolen Property, and Other Theft Offenses

In recent years, prosecutors have really been cracking down on theft offenses throughout New Jersey, including in Metuchen, NJ. When coupled with an increased emphasis by law enforcement on making arrests for even the most minor theft crimes, the end result for anyone charged with shoplifting, theft of movable property, burglarytheft by deceptionreceiving stolen property, or any other theft/property crime has been the strong possibility of conviction and jail time. For this reason, it is a basic necessity for anyone charged with theft in Metuchen to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to explore their available options and ways to effectively combat the charges.

The dedicated criminal defense attorneys at William Proetta Criminal Law have vast experience providing defense for those arrested for theft charges in Metuchen and throughout Middlesex County, New Jersey. No matter what type of theft crime you have been accused of, we will assess the evidence and determine the best course of action for getting your charges downgraded or dismissed. Contact our office at (732) 659-9600 for further counsel and a free personalized consultation. You can also contact us by sending a message or filling out our convenient online form to request a free consult.

Most Common Theft Crimes Leading to Arrests in Metuchen, New Jersey

Metuchen has a relatively low rate of theft crimes when compared to the rest of New Jersey, but the Metuchen Police Department still does make frequent arrests for theft. This is particularly true in locations with heavy foot traffic, like Metuchen Station and the downtown Metuchen shops and restaurants. Some of the most common types of theft crimes for which a person may face charges in Metuchen include the following:

  • Theft of Movable Property: Many theft offenses in Metuchen involve theft of movable property, which means any kind of property that has value and that is capable of being physically moved from one location to another. Basically, if you unlawfully take property that belongs to someone else, you can be charged with theft of movable property. This charge is addressed in the New Jersey Criminal Code by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3, which also includes theft of immovable property.
  • Shoplifting: Shoplifting is a specific kind of theft of movable property that involves stealing an item from a retail store. A person can commit a shoplifting offense in a number of ways, such as taking an item outside the store without paying for it, concealing an item inside the store, altering a price tag or label, switching packages to reduce the price, under-ringing store merchandise at the cash register, or stealing a shopping cart from the parking lot. Addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11.
  • Theft by Deception: Theft by deception is unique among theft charges in that it tends to involve fraud. There are many different ways that a person can be charged with theft by deception because fraud may involve reinforcing the victim’s mistaken belief about the value of an item, failing to correct the victim’s mistaken belief about an item’s value, or preventing the victim from finding out important information that could affect a transaction. A key element of a theft by deception charge is that the accused’s actions must have been intentional, not accidental. Addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4.
  • Theft of Services: When a person is accused of committing theft of services, it usually means that they allegedly stole from a cable, phone, electric, gas, water, or other utility company either by illegally lowering their monthly bill or by diverting utility or cable services to their home in Metuchen without paying for them. Addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-8.
  • Receiving Stolen Property: A person can be charged with a theft offense in Metuchen even if they did not actually steal the property in question. That’s because NJ law also prohibits individuals from “receiving” property that has been unlawfully taken. If you knowingly purchase stolen goods or items and take possession of them, you could face criminal charges for receiving stolen property. Addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7.
  • Burglary: Although burglary is not technically a theft crime, it may be accompanied by theft charges because a burglary offense often involves breaking and entering for the purpose of stealing property. If you are accused of entering a house, apartment, store, or other structure in Metuchen without permission to do so and with the intent to commit another crime on the premises, you can be charged with burglary. Addressed by N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2.

What Determines the Degree of a Metuchen Theft Charge

Although the exact degrees and penalties for a theft crime in Metuchen are determined by the particular charges and facts of the case, most theft charges have one common factor that affects the possible penalties: the value of the property that was allegedly stolen. For example, these are the degrees of charges for theft of movable property and shoplifting are based on monetary value:

  • Second Degree Crime: $75,000 or more
  • Third Degree Crime: $500 – $75,000
  • Fourth Degree Crime: $200 – $500
  • Disorderly Persons Offense: $200 or less

Generally, theft of higher-valued goods, items, or services results in more serious charges than theft of lower-valued goods, items, or services. This matters a great deal because the classification of the charge determines the penalties that the defendant could be subject to if convicted. For instance, a conviction on second degree theft charges in Metuchen is punishable by a sentence of 5-10 years in NJ state prison, while a conviction on a disorderly persons theft charge is punishable by a maximum sentence of 6 months in the Middlesex County Jail. The bottom line is that a defendant charged with second or third degree theft is more likely to face a lengthy term of incarceration than a defendant charged with fourth degree or disorderly persons theft.

Charged with Theft in Metuchen NJ, What Court will Hear my Case?

Additionally, the degree of your theft charge will also influence where the case is heard, as well as the process for resolving the case. Low-level theft offenses classified as disorderly persons charges are handled in the Metuchen Borough Municipal Court, while more serious theft offenses classified as felonies are handled in the Middlesex County Superior Court. The process in each of these courts is very different, and it can affect the options available to you, as well as the likelihood of you being sentenced to jail or prison time if you are ultimately convicted or plead guilty to the theft charges.

For example, a theft case handled at the Superior Court level must be sent to a grand jury in order for a trial to occur. Only after the grand jury indicts the defendant on the charges can the case then be scheduled for trial. Now, there are many opportunities to resolve the case before this happens, such as the Pre-Indictment Conference and pre-trial hearings. With an attorney who knows and deals with theft cases in Superior Court by your side, you can successfully navigate the entire process and may be able to have the charges dismissed by entering a program like Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), by raising a suppression issue or arguing another motion before trial, or by getting the charges reduced and remanded back to the lower court.

By contrast, a theft charge brought in Metuchen Borough Municipal Court does not require an indictment before the case goes to trial. Beyond that, these theft cases are decided by the municipal court judge at the conclusion of a bench trial. The good news is, there are many alternatives to a conviction for shoplifting and other theft related offenses in municipal court, such as the conditional dismissal program and defenses that can be used to beat disorderly persons charges for theft.

Additional Consideration for Your Metuchen Shoplifting or Theft Case

Most theft offenses in Metuchen and elsewhere in New Jersey are considered “crimes of moral turpitude.” What exactly does this mean? And what are the implications for someone who is convicted of a crime of moral turpitude? For starters, the definition of “moral turpitude” is vague and is open to interpretation by state and local authorities. Many offenses that might fall under this category are fairly obvious, such as murder, kidnappingaggravated sexual assault, and certain drug crimes. However, what might be less obvious is whether a crime against property, such as theft, shoplifting, or receiving stolen property, would qualify. To date, authorities have typically held that these kinds of theft crimes do constitute crimes of moral turpitude because, the thinking goes, everyone should probably understand that stealing is wrong.

A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude could have serious consequences if you are a licensed attorney or teacher because you may be deemed ineligible to hold those positions after conviction. Additionally, the most significant implication of being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude often comes in the context of immigration law because the offender could be subject to deportation. Basically, if you are living in the U.S. on a Green Card or Permanent Resident Card, you could be deported after you serve any sentence imposed in your theft case. The conviction may also count against you when denying your application for citizenship or permanent residency. Given that Metuchen has a significant immigrant population, including nearly 3,000 residents born outside the country and more than 1,000 non-citizen residents, a charge for any theft crime needs to be taken very seriously if you happen to find yourself in this situation.

Need a Metuchen NJ Theft Lawyer Free Consultation

If you have been charged with theft, arrested for stealing something, or even merely accused of a crime and yet to be charged with robbery, extortion, credit card theft or fraudulent use of credit card, or any other type of theft offense, contact our law office anytime at (732) 659-9600. A Metuchen NJ theft lawyer is available now to provide you with a free consultation.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.