Make no mistake, burglarizing a car is just as illegal as burglarizing a house. In fact, in New Jersey, the law does not even make a distinction when it comes to the severity of the charge a person will receive. This means someone can be punished just as severely regardless of whether he/she broke into a car, home, or other structure.
Any person charged with any kind of burglary in New Jersey must contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help avoid a conviction.
What is Car Burglary?
In New Jersey, all kinds of burglaries are prohibited under N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2. Out of the three main ways burglary is criminalized in New Jersey, two of them relate to automobiles:
- burglary based on entering
- burglary based on remaining
When it comes to burglary based upon entering, a person who enters a “structure” or separately secured or occupied portion of a “structure” at a time not open to the public and does so without permission and for the purpose of committing an offense inside, he/she can be convicted of burglary.
Likewise, one can be convicted of burglary based on remaining if one surreptitiously remains in a “structure” or separately secured or occupied portion of a “structure” while knowing that he/she is not allowed to do so. The key point to remember is that the law considers a car to be a “structure” when it comes to burglary.
Whether a person breaks into a Winnebago or RV and attempts to steal something inside or simply opens an unlocked car door to take something (e.g. a GPS, loose change, a phone, etc.), he/she can be convicted of burglary. Similarly, although rarely prosecuted, someone who sleeps in another person’s car without their permission while knowing full-well that he/she is not allowed to be there, that person could also be charged with burglary in New Jersey. It is exceedingly rare for this second type to occur, but it does happen when people are in dire straits.
Penalties and Fines
As mentioned, car burglary is penalized like any other burglary. Car burglary in NJ can either be a third-degree or second-degree crime. Generally, car burglary is a third-degree crime. If convicted, a person can be fined up to $15,000 and serve 3 to 5 years in prison.
However, if someone purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly attempts to inflict or threaten to inflict bodily injury on anyone during the commission of a burglary, he/she could be charged with a second-degree crime. For example, if a person is inside the vehicle that someone plans on burglarizing and the burglar tries to physically harm or threaten him/her, that person could be charged with second-degree burglary.
Similarly, a person who is armed or displays what appears to be an explosive or deadly weapon can also be charged with a second-degree crime. If convicted of a second-degree crime, one can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and forced to pay a $100,000 fine.
It is crucial to remember that an unsuccessful crime is still a crime. Anyone caught before making off with the goods can still be convicted and found guilty. Ultimately, be sure to hire an experienced attorney who can help avoid a conviction.
How To Beat Car Burglary
A skilled criminal defense attorney can build a case to defend against a charge of car burglary or other criminal defense areas in New Jersey. The exact defense will depend on the evidence against the client and other circumstances of the case. For example, an attorney could argue that any evidence used to charge the client was illegally obtained and thus cannot be used against him/her. If the facts support the claim, the attorney could prove that the client had permission to enter the vehicle and retrieve the objects in question.
In many cases, the best strategy is to avoid going to trial and negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charges to a lesser offense that will carry less serious penalties.
Case Law Analysis
Consequences for a First Offense
Car burglary is a serious offense in New Jersey. Even first-time offenders could face harsh penalties. It should be noted that third-degree car burglary carries a presumption of non-incarceration for a first-time offense, which means unless there are aggravating circumstances, it is possible for a first-time offender to avoid prison time upon conviction. While this may seem like a good thing, a conviction still means a heavy fine (up to $15,000) and the stigma of a criminal record. In addition, if the person is charged with additional crimes (such as theft), then the presumption may be waived. For this reason, it is critical that one hire an attorney to fight a charge of car burglary or negotiate to get it reduced to a less severe offense.
Consequences for Juveniles
A juvenile charged with car burglary faces a maximum of two years in a juvenile detention facility in most cases. Most juveniles charged with a crime in New Jersey have their cases heard in Family Court, where a judge takes into account the child’s best interest and attempts to dole out punishment with the maximum possible chance of resulting in rehabilitation. This means factoring in a child’s home life, schooling, medical and psychological needs, and more. It is possible to substitute detention with probation, community service, and counseling. Any child facing a charge of car burglary or another indictable offense must consult with an attorney to determine the best strategy for mitigating the penalties.
Enrolling in NJ Diversionary Programs
In select cases, a person can avoid a conviction for car burglary by entering a diversionary program in New Jersey. Diversionary programs, such as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) and conditional discharge are often used to help individuals rehabilitate from criminal behavior while avoiding both jail time and the stigma of a criminal record. However, admittance to diversionary programs is limited and not all who are eligible are accepted. It is best to consult with an attorney to determine if one is eligible for a diversionary program and how to apply.
Expunge Car Burglary
A conviction for car burglary can be expunged from one’s criminal record if the individual is otherwise eligible. Car burglary is an indictable (felony) offense, and a person can only expunge his/her record if it has no more than 1 indictable offense on it (plus a maximum of 3 disorderly persons offenses). That means if there is even one other felony on the record, it cannot be expunged. A criminal record with car burglary can only be expunged 6 years after the person has completed the sentence and paid any fines, and no other convictions can have occurred during that time. It is always best to consult with an attorney before attempting to expunge one’s criminal record.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one was charged with car burglary in New Jersey, contact Rosenblum Law today. Our team of skilled criminal defense attorneys has helped people in similar situations. We can defend your constitutional rights, fight to keep you out of jail and do what we can to have your car burglary charges dismissed. E-mail or call us today at 888-815-3649.