Because New Jersey uses different terminology from other states when it comes to classification of crimes, there may be some confusion and common misconceptions as to the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. In New Jersey, offenses that are called a “felony” in other jurisdictions are actually referred to as an indictable offense or crime. Meanwhile, those offenses referred to as misdemeanors in other states are known as disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey. These classifications of offenses in New Jersey are used to grade a charge and determine the penalties for a guilty verdict.
Disorderly Persons Offenses (Misdemeanors) in NJ
A disorderly persons offense is an act for which a person can be arrested, but it is a lower grade offense than those classified as crimes. A disorderly persons charge is a quasi-criminal act that would be more commonly known as a misdemeanor in other states. This means that the case will be heard in New Jersey Municipal Court and it is not necessary for the prosecutor to go before a grand jury to have the case move forward as it is done for indictable offenses. In fact, for disorderly persons offenses, there are no jury trials, so if your charge is brought to trial it will be heard by a judge. Disorderly persons charges, as misdemeanors, don't have automatic jail time or heavy fines attached to the charges in the event of a conviction, but there are still penalties that one should be aware of.
Some examples of a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey include:
- Shoplifting items with a value under $200
- Simple assault
- Disorderly conduct
- Obstruction of justice
Indictable Criminal Offenses (Felonies) in NJ
An indictable criminal offense, or crime, is a more serious offense than a disorderly persons. These offenses are called felonies in most other jurisdictions, but they generally operate the same way. They are broken down by degree ranging from first degree to fourth degree, with first being the most severe. In New Jersey, indictable offenses are called as such because the accused has the right to have his case presented to a grand jury before being formally indicted. Indictable offenses are heard in the Superior Court and, if trial results, it is a trial by jury unlike for a disorderly persons charge.
Difference in Penalties for Disorderly Persons Offenses and Crimes in NJ
Whether you are convicted of a disorderly persons charge or indictable crime in New Jersey, it will appear on your criminal record. Depending on the level of offense, you can face jail time, fines and loss of your driver's license as punishment. In some cases, with the help of an attorney, it may be possible for a disorderly persons charge to be reduced to an ordinance violation. This would render the charge as non-criminal and would result in a fine. More importantly, it would not appear on your criminal record.
The penalties for a disorderly persons offense typically involve a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. There are also even more minor violations called petty disorderly persons offenses that could result in only a fine of up to $500 if found guilty.
Indictable crimes, as expected, have much more serious consequences. Starting at the bottom, a fourth degree crime could result in up to eighteen months in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. A guilty verdict for a third degree crime could mean three to five years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines. A second degree crime conviction can result in five to ten years in prison and as much as a $150,000 fine, and a first degree crime conviction may result in a maximum of twenty years in prison and up to $200,000 in fines.
Contact a Lawyer About Your Disorderly Persons or Criminal Charge
Have you or a loved one been charged with a disorderly persons offense or indictable crime in New Jersey? Are you confused about the classification of the crime between misdemeanor (disorderly persons offense) and felony (indictable criminal offense)? If so, you should contact the criminal defense attorneys of Villani & DeLuca in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey for a detailed explanation of New Jersey law when it comes to defining the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.
Being charged with any crime can be a frightening experience whether it is a disorderly persons offense or something worse. Simply because it is viewed as a misdemeanor doesn't render the consequences meaningless. It is of great benefit to a person's future to be able to reduce the charges or even have them dismissed if possible. A criminal record can hinder many aspects of a person's life that they may not consider when accepting a plea agreement or moving forward with a trial and not having legal representation.
If you were charged with an offense in Ocean County or Monmouth County, New Jersey, Villani & DeLuca can help you understand how it may affect your future. Call for a free consultation today!