Meaning of Disorderly Persons Offenses vs. Indictable Crimes in New Jersey
January 9, 2022
The New Jersey criminal code classifies offenses as either indictable crimes or disorderly and petty disorderly offenses. The former is a more serious category with varying degrees, while the latter includes lesser criminal offenses.
What is an Indictable Crime in NJ?
An indictable crime, like murder, drug distribution, or weapons possession, comes with prison time and some formidable fines for the average person. Indictable crimes range from the lowest fourth degree offense to the highest first degree, and the penalties correspond to the degree. Each crime level comes with a sentence range. Depending on the degree, an indictable crime can land you in prison for anywhere from 18 months to a lifetime. And the fines average between $10,000.00 to $200,000.00 or more for enhancements and particular sentences associated with specific crimes.
For example, a fourth degree crime sentence can be up to 18 months in jail, with a $10,000.00 fine, while a third degree crime sentence range is up to 5 years in prison and a $15,000.00 fine. Second degree and first degree crimes are the most serious and come with the harshest sentences, up to 10 years’ incarceration with a $150,000.00 fine and up to 20 years’ incarceration with a $200,000.00 fine, respectively. However, certain crimes come with enhanced sentences, including life sentences and $700,000.00 fines.
And New Jersey laws require mandatory minimum sentences for designated gun and weapons crimes, among others like serious crimes of violence. Moreover, judges can sentence a defendant to probation, community service, and license suspension, among other penalties in the interests of restitution for victims or rehabilitation for the convicted. Sex crime convictions can also carry mandatory sex offender registration and community monitoring for life.
What is a Disorderly Persons Offense in New Jersey?
Though a criminal offense, a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense is not as serious as an indictable crime but still has severe penalties and consequences. They are the most common infractions municipal courts handle . An arrest for disorderly conduct, simple assault, a small amount of drugs, or petty theft (shoplifting) appears on your criminal record, as does a conviction.
In these cases, a convicted defendant can spend up to 6 months in jail and pay $1,000.00 in fines. Petty versions of these offenses carry up to $500 in fines and 30 days of jail time. So, if you resisted arrest after a police officer tried to arrest you for DWI, you are facing trial for a traffic violation and a disorderly persons offense. Either offense could land you in jail if the case doesn’t go your way, in addition to other potential consequences.
What Types of Courts Handle Criminal Offenses in Burlington County NJ?
Grand jury indictments that find sufficient evidence to try a defendant for their criminal charges occur in Superior Courts, which handle indictable offenses, while municipal courts hear disorderly persons offenses.
Can You Reduce the Penalties for a New Jersey Criminal Charge?
A sharp criminal defense attorney may be able to resolve your disorderly persons violation with lesser penalties or have your case dismissed depending on the evidence and available defenses. Thus, there is a wide margin of negotiation in which an attorney can resolve a disorderly persons offense with a municipal ordinance violation. Though ordinances may include jail time and fines for violations, these are unlikely to ensue, and judges and prosecutors typically agree on lighter sentences than those for a disorderly persons offense.
Conviction consequences are different between an ordinance and a petty disorderly persons offense. A borough, township, or city ordinance violation penalty is like a ticket. Each municipality has its laws that govern its residents. Typically, ordinances target the city’s unique nuisances. For example, a place with lots of tourists may have rules that punish public drunkenness, open containers, spitting on public streets, or hotel operation regulations. An ordinance violation is not a criminal infraction, which means a conviction does not damage a clean criminal record.
Though municipal ordinance convictions do not end up on your record as “criminal” convictions, the arrest does, at least for a time. You may have to wait two years if you take a plea to an ordinance, but you can eventually get it expunged. If the charges are dismissed, you can immediately get the arrest expunged from your record. And the likelihood of serving jail time for an ordinance is less than for a disorderly persons offense, though neither is as high as the likelihood of prison for an indictable crime. Thus, a Fake ID charge against a young person could end with an ordinance violation with a fine rather than jail time and a damaged future.
Likewise, a county prosecutor might agree to downgrade a fourth degree crime of shoplifting a $203.00 coat to a disorderly persons offense for a first-time offender with sympathetic circumstances. This can remove the felony penalties on the table and remand your case from Superior Court to the lower Municipal Court in the town where your charges were issued.
Do You Need a Defense Lawyer to Handle Indictable or Disorderly Persons Offense Charges in NJ?
Before a trial date, a criminal defense attorney may attempt to resolve your charges with the court prosecutor. They may present the prosecutor with the most compelling facts of your defense to make the prosecutor uncertain about the strength of the case against you. It is also an opportunity to raise concerns about witnesses and evidence. Perhaps the police stopped you in a vehicle without probable cause, or searched your person or vehicle without a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement. These are serious law enforcement missteps or misbehavior that can jeopardize the prosecutor’s case against you. And even if such police errors did not occur, an attorney can still convince the prosecutor that it is justifiable to reduce the charges and penalties against you. If all else fails, your lawyer could still help you get probation or admission into a diversionary program, like conditional dismissal, conditional discharge, or Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) to keep your record clear.
In so many ways, having a lawyer defending your case for a disorderly persons charge or indictable offense is a good choice. You are never required to plead guilty, always entitled to defend yourself, and equally allowed to have a lawyer if you so choose. You wouldn’t handle your own surgery, so why try to protect your legal rights alone? Call a criminal defense attorney at our office Marlton in Burlington County, NJ, to help you understand and chart the best course forward. Get a free consultation by calling 609-850-8284 or contacting us online.