Motor Vehicle Theft


A man sees an expensive sports car parked in an empty parking lot. The man opens the door and steals the car. This situation is Theft by Unlawful Taking of a Motor Vehicle or Motor Vehicle Theft.
Motor Vehicle Theft
In New Jersey, the charge for stealing a car is Theft by Unlawful Taking of Movable Property, which is defined in New Jersey Statute 2C:20-3. The crime listed is an all-encompassing crime that says a person is guilty of theft if the person unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with the purpose to deprive him of the property. Depending on the circumstances, a person could be charged with additional forms of theft, including Receiving Stolen Property – N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7 and Burglary – N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2.

Theft by Unlawful Taking of Movable Property is the most common type of theft charge in New Jersey for a motor vehicle. Theft by Unlawful Taking of Movable Property is commonly referred to as Motor Vehicle Theft.

For the prosecution to convict you of Theft by Unlawful Taking, they must prove the following elements:

  • That you knowingly took or unlawfully exercised control over movable property;
  • That the movable property was property of another;
  • That your purpose was to deprive the other person of the movable property.

A final element of this type of motor vehicle theft is the requirement that the property was taken with the intent to deprive the other person of the property. To deprive the other person would mean that you must have planned to keep the property of another permanently or must have planned to get rid of the property so as to make it unlikely that the owner will recover it. If the person did not mean to deprive the owner permanently of the motor vehicle, it might be a different crime under New Jersey law, Unlawful Taking of a Means of Conveyance.


The law defines motor vehicle theft as a third-degree crime, which has a punishment of up to five years in state prison. Also, New Jersey Statute 2C:20-2.1 imposes an additional fine and mandatory suspension of your driver’s license. For a first offense, the fine is an additional $500 and a one-year loss of your license. For a second offense, the fine is an additional $1,000 and two-year loss of your license. A third offense requires a fine of an additional $1,000 and a ten-year loss of your license.

Usually, New Jersey law carries a presumption that the first offense of a third–degree crime like Motor Vehicle Theft will not result in state prison; however, this presumption does not apply to theft of a motor vehicle.

If you have been charged with an offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney that has experience with Motor Vehicle Theft. While statutory law governs the penalties and consequences of motor vehicle theft charges, only an experienced criminal defense attorney can tell you how strong the case against you appears to be. The can also inform you about how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your courthouse. An experienced lawyer can also advise you as to possible alternatives to criminal punishment. In many cases hiring a pre–filing motor vehicle theft crimes defense attorney to convince the prosecution no charges should be filed or to file only disorderly person charges.

At the Law Office of Douglas Herring, we understand the stress that is involved with being accused of motor vehicle theft. If you or a loved one has been arrested, you can rest assured that that our team will conduct a thorough investigation and leave no stone unturned to plan your defense. If you would like to schedule a free consultation at 609-256-4098 we are available at our office or your location if you have been detained.