In New Jersey, entering a stranger’s car without permission by breaking in or opening a locked door to take something in the vehicle is burglary.
Likewise, staying in the car to drink, smoke, or sleep is burglary. And the burglar does not have to make off with the stolen car items to be guilty of burglary. Even a botched burglary is technically a burglary offense under the law.
Is Breaking Into a Car Breaking and Entering in NJ?
A burglary occurs by unlawful entry and unlawful remaining. So, in the case of house burglary, a person commits burglary when they enter a home without permission, for example, a stranger’s home at night. Another burglary type occurs when someone remains on someone’s property after initially allowed to be on the property, but circumstances change, and they are no longer rightfully on the property. So, a person who enters a restaurant during business hours but hides out in a supply room until closing and everyone is gone is guilty of burglary. Both acts constitute burglary of residential and commercial property. But burglary can also occur in other places, such as the enclosed parking lot of someone’s automotive business or someone’s vehicle the same way, wrongfully entering or remaining. Burglary, as defined in N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2, pertains to any structure or a portion of a structure, including cars.
And it is still burglary, even if the perpetrator took nothing from the car. Thus, if the owner thwarted the burglar by fighting them off or calling for help, causing the perpetrator to flee before taking anything from the vehicle, the attempted burglary is still burglary. The crime is essentially complete upon entering a car, knowing they are not permitted to be in the car with the intent to commit a crime. So, if a defendant accused of burglary can prove that they had permission to be in the vehicle, the state cannot prove burglary. Therefore, one of the necessary elements of the crime, unlawful entry, is missing. In that case, the prosecutor may dismiss the charges or reduce the charge to a fourth degree theft or disorderly persons offense.
What Degree of Crime Is Vehicular Burglary?
Second degree car burglary is an individual’s intentional or reckless infliction or threat to inflict physical injury during a burglary. So, for example, an individual who opens an unlocked car door and threatens the owner inside the car with a weapon or threat of an assault is guilty of second degree burglary. Otherwise, burglary is a third degree offense.
How Serious Are the Penalties for Car Burglary in New Jersey?
How severely a burglary defendant’s punishment turns out to depend on the circumstances and the degree of crime charged. If the car burglary amounts to a second degree crime, they are looking at five (5) to ten (10) years in prison if a jury finds them guilty of burglary. They could also end up paying $150,000.00 in fines. On the other hand, third degree burglary of a motor vehicle is punishable by three (3) to five (5) years in prison and a $15,000.00 fine.
Additionally, if you did steal items from the car, you may be charged with theft of movable property, which compounds the penalties you face.
Can I Avoid Jail or Conviction if Charged With Burglary of a Motor Vehicle?
If it is your first offense, you have even more defenses and avenues to avoid conviction. If a judge does not dismiss your case, you still can avoid a conviction on your record with diversionary programs, like the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI). For example, if the state charges you with third degree car burglary, you may benefit from PTI, offered to first-time offenders of non-violent offenses. Since a third degree crime carries no presumption of incarceration, you may avoid prison by PTI, a diversionary program that allows you a period of supervision rather than imprisonment. Once you finish PTI, the charges are dismissed and your record is clear of convictions. As such, your best bet may be PTI if you can get into the program. The prosecutor must approve your entry into the program, so your attorney can help you make the most robust application.
With a third degree crime, since there is a non-incarceration presumption, the options of bargaining with the prosecutor are more open. Even if you are charged with second degree vehicular burglary, you may still have negotiation options. With the help of an attorney, you have better chances of convincing a prosecutor to dismiss or negotiate with you on a plea bargain. Since the prosecutor knows a criminal defense attorney can attack the state’s case, find the weaknesses, and convince a jury that the state’s case is doubtful, they will deal with you if extremely competent counsel represents you. A criminal defense attorney works with prosecutors and judges all the time, so they know what to do to obtain the state’s cooperation.
Probation may be a great alternative to prison if you can secure that outcome with the help of your lawyer. Notably, with probation to avoid prison after conviction, you still live with a criminal record by taking a plea. Then there is an outright dismissal which may be achieved by litigating the case in court. A talented criminal defense attorney is critical of every piece of evidence the state has against you, examining whether it is strong or weak evidence or even evidence that should be thrown out. Police who do not follow the law to gather evidence may not benefit from their wrongful conduct. A prosecutor may not use evidence seized against your constitutional rights.
What Happens if a Minor Is Charged With Car Burglary in NJ?
If your child got busted for car burglary, they face up to two years in a juvenile detention center if they are a minor. A Family Court judge determines sentences for juveniles, considering the role of the juvenile court system to rehabilitate minors and protect public safety. As such, each juvenile’s sentence for car burglary accords with their crime, age, family situation, needs, and rehabilitation probability. Thus, a juvenile’s sentence may be in a juvenile detention facility or performing community service, attending counseling, and reporting to a probation officer while on probation. Since the juvenile court is different from the adult criminal justice system in superior court, an attorney with juvenile law experience is your best choice of representative. You can read more specific information about juvenile burglary charges on our dedicated page.
Connect with a Car Burglary Lawyer in Ocean County, New Jersey
Just because you have been arrested and charged with breaking into a car does not mean that you committed the crime. In fact, with the right defense approach, your attorney can possibly help you avoid a car burglary conviction. No matter what, you are entitled to the most complete defense you can muster, so be sure to talk to the right criminal defense lawyer for your circumstances or those of your loved ones. You do not want to take chances fighting the state on your own. Our team of criminal defense lawyers has a wealth of knowledge on car burglaries that lead to charges against our clients throughout Ocean County, as we often defend those accused in Toms River, Ocean Township, Brick, Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights, Jackson, Seaside Park, Manchester, and other towns in the Jersey Shore area. Contact us at (848) 238-2100 if you need a free consultation about a motor vehicle burglary case.