Bergen County residents facing an up-rise in Burglary & Criminal Trespassing

A high volume of looting has been reported throughout New Jersey including in towns like Teaneck, Hackensack, Fort Lee, Paramus, Garfield, Fair Lawn and Cliffside Park during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The looting has been reported by not only homeowners throughout Bergen County but also by local business owners as well. The offense of looting occurs generally when an individual breaks into either a building or dwelling after some form of natural disaster has occurred with the purpose of committing a theft when inside. ¬†With that being said, it is important to note here that looting is a slang term and it is not an actual offense under the criminal code in New Jersey. The typical underline offenses a “looter” finds themselves charged with are as follows: Burglary, Criminal Trespassing, Theft of Moveable Property, Defiant Trespassing, Theft and Possession of Burglary Tools.

Probably the most common offense a looter is charged with is Burglary (N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2). In New Jersey, burglary is an indictable offense (felony) and it can be graded as either a second or third degree crime depending on the underline facts. A defendant convicted of a crime of the second degree faces a presumption of incarceration and the potential incarceration is up to ten years.¬†Conversely, a defendant convicted of a third degree burglary charge will face a non-presumption of incarceration. However, that presumption can be overcome and if it is a defendant can face up to five years in a New Jersey State Prison. Typically a defendant charged with the offense of burglary in Bergen County can apply and most likely would be accepted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (“PTI”). PTI is a diversionary program in New Jersey, where if the Defendant is accepted and completes the program as required, the underline felony charges will be dismissed.

With all that being said, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office is taking an extremely harsh approach towards any looters no matter what the underline charges are. They will be prosecuting every “looting” case to the fullest and will almost certainly be looking for some form of custodial sentence on every indictable (felony) case.