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In New Jersey, according to the Defense Against Porch Pirates Act (https://pub.njleg.gov/bills/2020/A4000/3870_I1.HTM), if someone steals a package that includes certain things (such as research materials), then they can be charged with a crime (as opposed to a disorderly persons offense).

When a porch pirate steals a package, they might have a vague idea of what is in the package, but do not know specifically. For example, they might steal a package from a food delivery service. Consider the hypothetical scenario where a repeated victim of such a crime decides to put out a dummy package that looks like a food delivery but actually contains research materials, and it can be proven to a jury that the suspect stole the package and that the package contained research materials. Can the suspect be charged with a crime or only with a disorderly persons offense ? The involvement of the concept of intent in the definition of of "theft" I could find online (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/theft) says that the theft of some property involves intent to deprive the owner of that property. Is there legal precedent that says that this kind of thing counts as theft of research materials because the thief intended to abstractly deprive the owner of whatever was in the bag (not knowing the contents a priori), or does it not count as theft of research materials because the thief did not intend to steal research materials and wouldn't have stolen those research materials if they had known that the package contained them ?

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  • The sort of specific intent requirement you are describing is, at least at the federal level, typically not applied unless the statute sets it out explicitly (most often in white-collar cases such as with tax evasion). I am not familiar with New Jersey law in particular, but it would be rather surprising to me if they required specific intent for theft of research materials, given the text of the statute you have linked.
    – Kevin
    Feb 10 at 8:23
  • Most jurisdictions have different degrees of theft based on the value of the stolen property, so this issue must come up there as well. If a thief steals an envelope that they believed contained $5, but it actually contains $50000, are they guilty of grand theft or petty theft? What about the reverse? What if they had no idea what the envelope contained? Feb 10 at 22:56
  • If you punch someone, not particularly hard, but the victim is unusually suspectible to such strikes and dies, it counts as murder. So if the value of a stolen item matters, I would expect that if expected to steal something worth $20 but by coincidence stole something worth $200,000, you would be punished for "theft of an item worth $200,000".
    – gnasher729
    Feb 12 at 0:56

1 Answer 1

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Two points:

  1. The text linked in the question is not a law; it is a proposal. To know whether this text specifies what "counts as theft" in New Jersey, you have to find out whether this proposal became law, or more precisely, you have to find out what the law said at the time of the possible theft that you are interested in.

  2. The theft of research materials and the theft of a package left for delivery are each, separately, an element of third degree theft. In the second case, it doesn't matter what's in the package.

The conditions giving rise to "a crime of the third degree" are in a list that uses the word "or", meaning that each condition is by itself enough. (This is frequently denoted in theoretical writing by the term "logical disjunction.") In other words, you can test each condition separately to determine whether a theft is a crime of the third degree. This means that the following two statements are independent:

(2) Theft constitutes a crime of the third degree if [...] (i) The property stolen is any real or personal property related to, necessary for, or derived from research, regardless of value, including, but not limited to, any sample, specimens and components thereof, research subject, including any warm-blooded or cold-blooded animals being used for research or intended for use in research, supplies, records, data or test results, prototypes or equipment, as well as any proprietary information or other type of information related to research...

And

(2) Theft constitutes a crime of the third degree if [...] (m) The property stolen consists of a package delivered to a residential property by a cargo carrier and the amount involved is less than $75,000 or is undetermined.

Since (2)(m) causes a theft to be a third-degree crime all by itself, it doesn't matter what's in the package.

But, once again, it's not clear from the link in the question whether the proposed legislation was ever enacted.

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  • Oops, I totally didn't notice number (m) on the list, which totally answers the question. I think the bill actually was signed into law in New Jersey, according to nj.com/politics/2022/01/…
    – babu_babu
    Feb 11 at 3:56

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