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A Guide to NJ Car Burglary Charges

May 31, 2024

Need a Lawyer for Car Burglary Charge in Burlington County NJ

Car burglaries are rising throughout the nation, including in New Jersey. Between 2 and 4 a.m., the most popular time for break-ins, people scour neighborhoods for cars parked along residential streets or in apartment complex parking lots for quick and easy removal of items from vehicles, like valuables inside the car or car parts, namely catalytic converters to sell. 

Most people do not recognize stealing from cars as burglary. They think of house break-ins when they hear the term, but the legal definition of burglary applies to cars as well. So, you may need to defend against burglary charges, among others, when you are arrested for stealing items from, or merely being in a car without permission, if it is believed that you intended to commit a theft while inside.

If you have been arrested for burglarizing a car in Burlington County or elsewhere in New Jersey, contact the criminal defense lawyers at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay for immediate assistance at 609-850-8284. We concentrate entirely on criminal law and defense in New Jersey, so our attorneys can protect your rights, review your case, and determine the best approach to getting the charges reduced, dismissed, or seeking an alternative option to help you avoid a criminal record.

NJ Statute for Car Burglary – N.J.S.A 2C:18-2

Like burglary of another “structure,” car burglary occurs when someone enters or remains on someone else’s property without permission and intends to break the law. Burglary is familiar to most people as breaking and entering, the breaking part referring to an intentional and illegal entry into someone’s “structure,” which includes a car or other vehicle. Therefore, car burglary includes breaking a car window, opening an unlocked car door, or using a device to enter a locked vehicle to steal something.

Unique Aspects of Burglarizing a Car

Compared to other burglaries, car burglaries are most often to steal what is in or on the car, like tire rims, catalytic converters, purses, laptops, clothing, navigation systems, audio equipment, tools, tires, credit cards, cash, keys, sunglasses, and garage door openers. Regarding a store burglary, on the other hand, the perpetrator may be more likely to remain in a store after the store closes to steal items in the store. House burglaries may be more dangerous than car burglaries since the occupants may be present. However, house, store, car lot, or car burglaries are treated equally by law.  

How the State Proves Car Burglary in New Jersey

Regardless of the “structure,” the state charges you with a third degree crime for car burglary in most cases. A conviction requires the prosecutor in the county where the burglary occurred to prove all elements of the crime.

The first element is the unlawful entry or remaining in the vehicle. So, evidence of a broken window, a jimmied door lock, or other mode of breaking into the car is proof of the first element. Proof of the vehicle’s registered owner and their police report of car damage and theft would be evidence that the entry is not authorized. Note, this means a burglary can occur when the entrance of the vehicle is committed, or when remaining in the car without authorization.

The second element is the intent to commit a crime or offense in the vehicle. Evidence of wrongdoing may be in the owner’s missing items or damage to the car. Vandalizing someone’s car in revenge or for criminal mischief also constitutes unlawful intent to commit an offense for purposes of burglary. 

Once the prosecution evidences all elements of the crime, they are more likely to get a conviction unless you raise doubt about one or all the elements or have a valid defense.

What Degree is Car Burglary in NJ?

Most burglaries are third degree indictable offenses. Third degree crimes come with a presumption of non-incarceration for those with no prior criminal record. This means probation, a diversionary program, or an alternative to prison time may be an option.

Aggravating Factors in Car Burglary Cases

The circumstances of the burglary may raise the criminal grade level. When a car burglary involves bodily injury, whether by threat or action, the state could charge you with second degree burglary. So, when the car owner discovers a burglary in progress and confronts the perpetrator, who flashes a gun, explosive device, or other lethal weapon, the threat to human life may spur the prosecuting attorney to file second degree burglary charges. It is irrelevant that no one suffered bodily harm. The threat alone is enough to justify the higher crime level.

Prison and Fines for Car Burglary in New Jersey

A third degree burglary conviction means the defendant faces three (3) to five (5) years in prison and upwards of $15,000.00 in fines. They also have a criminal record, which lessens their chances of getting the job, housing, education, or perhaps their professional license. 

A second degree criminal conviction for car burglary could result in five (5) to ten (10) years of incarceration and up to a $150,000.00 fine. Unlike third degree crimes, second degree crimes come with a presumption of incarceration. That means you will likely get a prison sentence unless your attorney can show compelling reasons against it. 

Bail and Pre-Trial Release After You Are Arrested for Car Burglary

When it is your first offense, or you are charged with a third degree burglary offense, a judge may release you from jail after arrest and a risk assessment by the superior court’s pretrial services. The prosecutor on the case always has the option to file a motion for detention, which forces a judge to conduct a formal hearing with input from the prosecution and defense as to why you should or should not be released on their own recognizance or released with conditions as opposed to staying in jail pending a trial. 

The court wants assurance that you attend future hearings, commit no further offenses, and do not interfere with the judicial process before releasing you to await the next hearing on the case. Those with histories of skipping out on criminal proceedings, bench warrants, criminal convictions, or violent crimes are not as likely to get an unconditional release from jail as those with no prior history with the judicial system.

Potential Ways to Resolve an NJ Car Burglary Case

First-time offenders also have a chance to apply to the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). This diversionary program allows convicted defendants to complete it instead of prison. Once the attendee completes the program and complies with the program requirements, they no longer face criminal charges. The state dismisses the charges. You can then petition to expunge any and all records of the case 6 months after PTI completion.

However, even when PTI is not an option, a judge may choose not to incarcerate you when you have no criminal history, or probation is a better option for you than prison. Our criminal defense attorneys can advocate for PTI, probation, or leniency in other ways when your sentence is more likely to help you move on with your life, as opposed to ruining your prospects of continuing in society as a productive citizen.

You may also have defenses that exonerate you in part or whole against the charges. For example, your mistake about authorization to enter the vehicle and lack of intent to take anything may cast doubt on whether the prosecutor has all the elements of the crime covered for a conviction. Thus, they may be more willing to dismiss the charges or allow you to plea bargain to a lesser charge with no prison time.

Speak with a Defense Attorney about Your Car Burglary Charge in Burlington County NJ

Discussing your case with a skilled criminal defense attorney and getting sound legal advice is an excellent first step to battling a car burglary charge. Our team at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay is prepared to assist you in defending your innocence and securing the most favorable result as we have done for hundreds of clients in Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, Pemberton, Cinnaminson, Lumberton, Bordentown, Riverside, Florence, Delran, and other Burlington County and South Jersey areas. Contact our local Evesham Township office at 609-850-8284 for a free consultation. Don’t way to get the guidance you need to move forward with confidence.  

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525 Highway 73,
Suite 104, Marlton,
New Jersey 08053
Phone: 609-850-8284
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New Jersey, 08691
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3828 River Road,
Suite A, Point Pleasant,
New Jersey 08742
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180 Kings Highway,
Middletown Township,
New Jersey 07748
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