Understanding the Degrees of Crime in NJ

Degrees of Crime in NJWhen an individual is arrested for a crime in New Jersey, the county prosecutor presents the case to a grand jury for indictment.  To indict someone means to formally charge them with an offense, for which they will tried in a court of law.  The decision to indict is made by a group of random individuals (between 16 to 23 people), referred to as a “grand jury”.  Cases are normally presented to the grand jury without the presence of the defendant or defense counsel, and their proceedings are strictly confidential.  If the majority of jurors feel that the prosecution met its burden of proof, the defendant will be indicted and brought to trial.  If the majority of jurors feel that the evidence is insufficient, they will enter a “no bill”, in which case the charges will be dismissed.

It’s important to note that indictments only pertain to offenses that expose the defendant to more than 6 months in jail or prison.  Disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses usually carry a jail sentence of less than 6 months, and are therefore not indictable offenses.  Another important distinction is that indictable offenses are tried at the county Superior Court, whereas non-indictable offenses are handled by the municipal courts without being presented to a grand jury.

Degrees of Crimes in NJ

In New Jersey, indictable offenses are categorized as first degree, second degree, third degree or fourth degree crimes.  Extremely violent crimes are classified as first degree, which include offenses such as felony murder, vehicular manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault.  The penalties are severe, with fines of up to $200,000 and prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life.  All other sex crimes, kidnapping, burglary, aggravated arson, white collar crimes, and drug crimes involving a Schedule I, II, III or IV CDS (controlled dangerous substance) are second degree offenses.  Second degree crimes are punishable by a fine of up to $150,000 and 5 to 10 years in prison.  Third degree crimes include arson, possession of a Schedule V CDS and certain robbery offenses, which are essentially lower level versions of second degree crimes.  Stalking, possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana and simple assault are examples of fourth degree crimes, which carry a sentence of up to $10,000 in fines and a maximum prison sentence of 18 months.

NJ Motor Vehicle Crimes: Assault by Auto

It should be noted that DWI’s—normally considered motor vehicle offenses—may be tried as criminal offenses if there are injuries or deaths involved.  These cases are classified under assault by auto, which are categorized as fourth, third or second degree crimes based on the seriousness of the injuries.  In addition, third degree assault by auto is automatically elevated to a second degree offense if the violation was committed in a school zone.  The most serious assault by auto charge is vehicular manslaughter, which is the offense of causing someone else’s death through reckless driving.

Seek Legal Help for an Indictable Crime in New Jersey

If you have been charged with an indictable offense in New Jersey, please speak with the criminal defense attorneys of Villani & DeLuca.  Partner Carmine R. Villani, Esq. has over 20 years of experience in criminal defense through his service as municipal prosecutor and public defender for various NJ towns.  Our lawyers can provide you with an explanation of the degrees of crime in NJ and all the available defense options for resolving your charges.  Please call (732) 965-3350 to schedule a free consultation.

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