New Jersey Misdemeanors, Felonies, Process, & Penalties
June 25, 2022
Criminal Attorneys Explain Classification of Offenses and Punishments in NJ
Just across the border, a crime in Pennsylvania can get you a totally different sentence involving fines and prison. In New Jersey, however, the categories of crimes and offenses, as well as the respective penalties for each, are unique to this state. What 43 other states call a felony is an indictable crime in New Jersey. In addition, what other states call misdemeanors are disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey. Crimes and offenses are the two categories that separate legal violations into superior court and municipal court cases.
Difference between Indictable Crimes and Lesser Offenses in New Jersey
The shorthand understanding is that indictable crimes are more serious crimes than disorderly persons offenses. Crimes are more serious than offenses in two significant ways: exposure of the public to harm and punishment. New Jersey orders indictable crimes from the most to least extreme. First is the most extreme, thus warranting the harshest punishments. Fourth is the least of the degrees of crimes, thus allowing for lesser sentences.
First Degree Crimes and Penalties
Aggravated sexual assault, armed robbery, and leading a drug trafficking network are first degree crimes, the most serious. As such, criminal law provides guidelines for first degree sentencing. Convictions for first degree crimes require 10 to 20-year prison terms and a $200,000.00 fine. Within that range, a judge has the discretion to consider the circumstances, the specific statute governing the crime and the defendant’s history to sentence an individual. However, some crimes allow or require a judge to extend sentences. For example, murder is a first degree crime punishable by 30 years to up to life in prison, with a 30-year minimum.
In addition, the No Early Release Act (NERA) mandates that many violent first degree criminal convictions come with a minimum of 85% term service. In other words, a person convicted of specific first degree violent crimes must serve 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole and release from prison. Certain second degree crimes are also subject to NERA.
Second Degree Crimes and Punishments
Some types of aggravated assault, standard robbery, armed burglary, theft by deception and other types of theft where the monetary loss is valued at $75,000.00 or more, sexual assault, and unlawful possession of a handgun are all second degree crimes. If your conviction is for a second degree crime, you face 5 to 10 years in prison and up to $150,000.00 in fines. Some also come with NERA sentences or Graves Act mandatory prison time and parole ineligibility consequences.
Third Degree Crimes and Consequences
Third degree crimes come with comparably lesser sentences, covering crimes such as possessing a dangerous controlled substance (cocaine possession, heroin possession, etc.), some cases of endangering the welfare of a child, terroristic threats, and shoplifting items valued at between $500.00 and $74,999.99. Convictions for third degree crimes allow judges to sentence you to 3 to 5 years in prison and fine you up to $15,000.00.
Fourth Degree Crimes and Sentences
Fourth degree criminal convictions carry up to 18 months and $10,000.00 in fines. These are the lowest degree or indictable crimes, the equivalent of felonies. Fourth degree crimes include forgery, stalking, and resisting arrest in some cases.
Presumption of Imprisonment vs. Non-Imprisonment for Felonies in New Jersey
While judges have greater sentencing discretion for third and fourth degree crimes, higher graded crimes of the second and first degree come with a presumption of incarceration. As such, a first and second degree criminal charge requires strong arguments to the prosecutor and the judge for why the defendant should not be imprisoned.
Being Indicted for a Felony Crime in Burlington County, NJ
Since New Jersey’s more serious crimes come with severe penalties, the legislature created the indictment process to safeguard those charged with crimes. Indictable crimes are so named because a grand jury must first indict a defendant before being prosecuted. Thus, a prosecutor seeking charges against a defendant for aggravated sexual assault will bring evidence gathered through an investigation to an empaneled jury to review. First, the grand jury must determine if there is enough evidence to support the formal charges. If they vote to indict the defendant, criminal prosecution will go forward, and the defendant faces a potential trial.
Prior to the grand jury presentation and potential indictment, the defendant and their criminal defense lawyer have the opportunity to resolve the case. For instance, after reviewing limited discovery, the defendant’s attorney may negotiate a plea agreement to a lesser offense or seek minimized penalties. They also may have the option to obtain probation or apply for the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI). The Pre-Trial Intervention program in superior court allows certain first-time offenders to complete a probationary program instead of serving a prison sentence. Successful program completion means a conviction does not occur, the charges get dismissed, and a conviction for a crime does not appear on your record.
Misdemeanor Charges for Less Severe Criminal Offenses
While a defendant facing an indictable criminal conviction may go to prison, those facing disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses can expect less time in the county jail, if any. Unlike indictable crimes, municipal court offenses are determined by a judge, not a jury. The severity of the defendant’s alleged offense and its effect on the public affects sentencing. Simple assault, shoplifting less than $200.00 worth of goods, and some forms of lewdness are disorderly persons offenses with punishments ranging up to 6 months in jail with up to $1,000.00 in fines. Petty disorderly offenses, on the other hand, will get you up to 30 days in jail and a $500.00 fine for offenses like disorderly conduct, harassment, and certain types of trespassing.
Do NJ Felonies and Misdemeanors Show up on a Background Check?
Despite the fact that lesser offenses that would be considered misdemeanors in other states are punished far less severely than felony criminal offenses in New Jersey, the consequences for convictions on both indictable crimes and disorderly persons offenses can include incarceration and high fines. Neither should be taken lightly. Both types of convictions lead to criminal records that can cause further hardship and difficulties when they appear on a background check. You could face rejected housing, job, and educational applications. Sadly, your career plans may change as some professional licenses require clean criminal records. Fortunately, you may be able to expunge your record of disorderly persons offenses and some indictable crime expungements are also a possibility. However, the better option is to avoid conviction from the outset.
Meet with a Criminal Lawyer at our Evesham Office
Hiring a criminal defense attorney is smart if you plan try to prevent the conviction with a well-formulated defense. Our lawyers work daily in the criminal justice system, strategizing on defenses, litigating cases at trial, and finding issues with evidence that offer our clients’ the top route for successful result in their cases. We can also help you prepare and execute the best application and arguments to get into diversionary programs that allow you to avoid convictions. For example, in municipal court, conditional dismissal and conditional discharge are examples of these programs to help offenders maintain conviction-free criminal records. Targeted programs such as Drug Court and the Veterans Diversion Program can also offer viable options for getting charges dismissed for those who meet eligibility requirements and successfully apply.
Contact us at (609) 850-8284 to speak with a lawyer at our firm confidentially and free of charge. You can also make an appointment to sit down with an attorney and talk through the details of your case. With a free consultation and by retaining our assistance, you can get a full explanation of what your charges mean and how we can help ensure your defense is the best it can be. Reach out for help today to alleviate the stress of not knowing you have experienced legal support and a tactically-skilled criminal attorney on your side.