Joseph A. Lombardo
One of the most confusing parts about being charged with a criminal offense is figuring out exactly what kind of charges you face. In New Jersey, misdemeanor-type offenses fall into two broad categories.
In New Jersey, there are no felonies or misdemeanors. Offenses that would be like felonies are called indictable crimes or simply crimes. Misdemeanor offenses are known as disorderly persons offenses. Disorderly persons offenses also contain a subcategory known as petty disorderly offenses. Each class of offense comes with certain penalties and must be handled differently by your attorney. Although disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses are less severe than indictable crimes, they might still carry jail time and heavy fines. It is also important to understand the difference between disorderly persons offenses and indictable crimes, as a fourth-degree crime, only one step above a disorderly persons offense, carries much harsher penalties.
If you were charged with a disorderly person offense, our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys can help you understand the nature of the charges and how to fight them. For a free case review, call the Lombardo Law Group, LLC at (609) 418-4537.
What Are Misdemeanor Offenses in New Jersey?
New Jersey is a bit different from other states and jurisdictions when it comes to how it assesses criminal charges. Most other states classify criminal offenses as felonies and misdemeanors, with felonies being the more severe of the two classifications. These terms are not used in New Jersey, although the same general principles apply. New Jersey refers to felony offenses as indictable crimes and misdemeanors as disorderly persons offenses.
There are more than just two categories of criminal charges in New Jersey, with each category broken down further into subcategories. More serious indictable crimes are broken into first, second, third, or fourth-degree crimes. Lesser offenses akin to misdemeanors fall into one of two broad classes: disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses.
Disorderly persons offenses constitute a singular category and are not broken up into degrees or other classifications. They tend to be more serious than petty disorderly persons offenses, which are more akin to infractions or summary offenses. Our Camden County criminal defense attorneys can help you understand what kind of charges you are facing and why.
How Misdemeanor Offenses are Classified in New Jersey
As mentioned above, offenses that might be considered misdemeanors elsewhere are classified as disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey. While these classifications sound very similar, they come with different penalties and encompass different kinds of offenses. If you have been charged with either offense, you can call our Atlantic County criminal defense lawyers for help immediately.
Disorderly Persons Offenses
Disorderly persons offenses are rather broadly defined under N.J.S.A. § § 2C:1-4(b)(1)-(2). According to the law, an offense may be deemed a disorderly persons offense if it is designated as such by statute. The law also explains that disorderly persons offenses are not legally considered crimes and are therefore not entitled to a grand jury indictment or a right to trial by jury.
Although disorderly persons offenses are considered less severe than indictable crimes, they might still carry serious penalties. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:483-8, a disorderly persons offense may be penalized by up to 6 months in jail. While this might not sound like a long time at first, the time quickly adds up when defendants face multiple disorderly persons offenses. Just 3 consecutive disorderly persons charges may send someone to jail for up to 18 months.
We must also consider how convictions from other states that use the more typical felony/misdemeanor terminology translate to New Jersey. For example, suppose a person with prior convictions from Pennsylvania was charged with an offense in New Jersey. In that case, the New Jersey authorities need to know what kind of prior convictions they are dealing with. Under N.J.S.A.§ 2C:1-4(b)(2)(a), convictions in other states may be considered disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey if the offenses resulted in a prison or jail term of more than 30 days but no more than 1 year.
Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses
Petty disorderly persons offenses are at the lower rungs of the criminal justice system and, like disorderly persons offenses, are not considered criminal offenses. As such, people charged with disorderly persons offenses are not entitled to a grand jury hearing nor a full jury trial. Petty disorderly persons offenses are even less severe than standard disorderly persons offenses and are similar to summary offenses or infractions in other states.
Petty disorderly offenses may be punished by up to 30 days in jail for each offense. Much like disorderly persons offenses, this penalty appears very lenient initially, but things quickly change when you are charged with multiple offenses or counts. Just 3 consecutive charges for petty disorderly persons offenses might send you to jail for up to 3 months.
The Difference Between Disorderly Persons Offenses and Indictable Crimes in New Jersey
One important detail to understand is the difference between disorderly persons offenses and fourth-degree indictable crimes. An indictable crime is like a felony in other states, and a fourth-degree crime is the lowest indictable crime you can be charged with. Although these charges are separated by only one degree of difference, they carry very different penalties and consequences.
A fourth-degree crime may be penalized with a prison term of up to 18 months, the equivalent of the maximum punishment for 3 disorderly persons offenses. The difference between these offenses often comes down to how they are defined in the statutes. In some cases, our Linwood criminal defense attorneys can work with prosecutors to reduce your charges from fourth-degree crimes down to disorderly persons offenses, saving you a lot of potential time behind bars. This is often a very useful tactic as many offenses walk the line between these charges.
Call Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help
If you are facing criminal charges of any kind, our Mays Landing criminal defense lawyers can help you understand the alleged offenses and how to fight them. For a free case review, call the Lombardo Law Group, LLC at (609) 418-4537.
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