New Jersey’s criminal law does not include the common system of breaking down crimes into “felonies” and “misdemeanors.” Instead, New Jersey has four levels of “indictable offense” or “crime,” referred to as first degree, second degree, third degree, and fourth degree “crimes.” The lower level of offense is called a “disorderly persons offense,” instead of “misdemeanor,” and covers various lower-level crimes. However, these offenses can still have serious penalties, including fines and jail time.
If you or your child was charged with a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, talk to a criminal defense attorney. The Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych represent people charged with a disorderly persons offense in Atlantic City and throughout South Jersey, the Jersey Shore, and beyond.
What is a Disorderly Persons Offense (Misdemeanor) in NJ?
A disorderly persons offense is a lower class of crime in New Jersey. In other states, many crimes are divided into “felonies” and “misdemeanors.” Felonies are typically punished by more than one year in prison, while misdemeanors are punished with less than one year in prison. Every New Jersey “crime” or “indictable offense” has a potential punishment of more than one year, making them the equivalent of a “felony” in New Jersey. Fourth degree crimes are punished by up to 18 months in prison, meaning that some fourth degree crimes may face less than a year of punishment and have more in common with “misdemeanors” in other states. Disorderly persons offenses cover a wide range of conduct, some of which may be similar to misdemeanors in other states, and some of which are more akin to what other states call “summary offenses,” “violations,” or “infractions.”
Every disorderly persons offense is punishable by jail time and fines. Any disorderly persons offense carries the potential punishment of up to six months in jail. Since this is less than one year of potential punishment, a disorderly persons charge is the equivalent of other states’ misdemeanor charges. Disorderly persons offenses also carry a potential fine of up to $1,000.
There is a subset of disorderly persons offenses called “petty disorderly persons offenses.” These are smaller violations that are not as serious as other misdemeanor charges, and have lowered penalties, such as disorderly conduct. The maximum jail time for a petty disorderly persons offense is 30 days, and the maximum fine is $500. These are more clearly the New Jersey equivalent of “summary offenses,” “violations,” or “infractions.”
For many offenses, you could face jail time, a fine, or both. Unless the specific statute says otherwise, the jail time is an optional punishment. This means that a judge may not sentence you to jail time unless the crime was especially severe. In many cases, a criminal defense attorney may be able to argue for alternative punishments such as house arrest or probation. Other times, you may only receive a fine. Since the jail time and fines both have a maximum limit, your attorney can argue for reduced punishments.
Examples of Disorderly Persons Offenses in NJ
There are many New Jersey crimes classified as “disorderly persons offenses.” The following are crimes that may be charged as a disorderly persons offense in NJ:
Possession of a small amount of marijuana
Soliciting a prostitute
Is a Disorderly Persons Offense a “Crime” in New Jersey?
According to the definition of disorderly persons offense in N.J.S.A. § 2C:1-4(b), a disorderly persons offense is not a “crime.” However, a disorderly persons offense still involves the risk of arrest, being charged, going to trial, being sent to jail, having to pay fines, having a criminal record, and listing the offense if a school or potential employer asks if you have ever been convicted of a crime. Because of this, you should always consult an attorney when facing a disorderly persons charge.
Because a disorderly persons offense is not a “crime,” you are not entitled to a jury trial for these charges. Instead, all trials for disorderly persons offenses are bench trials. Most disorderly persons offenses are tried at the municipal court for the area where the crime was committed. Though these courthouses often handle local and city ordinance violations, disorderly persons offenses are more serious.
Alternative Punishments for Disorderly Persons Offenses in New Jersey
If you have been charged with a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, you may have alternatives to jail and fines. Anyone without a criminal record may be entitled to apply to the “Pretrial Intervention Program” (PTI). PTI works to help people avoid jail time, high fines, and a criminal record through education and other intervention programs. Rather than a jail sentence, those accepted into PIT may undergo drug counseling, alcohol counseling, mental health counseling, anger management classes, education, and community service.
Rather than punishment, PTI focuses on rehabilitation. However, pretrial intervention is not available for every crime, nor for every defendant. If you have been charged with a first-time disorderly persons offense, talk to an attorney about your eligibility. You may only take advantage of the PTI program once, so if you previously used this system or were previously convicted of another disorderly persons offense or crime, you may be ineligible.
Atlantic City Misdemeanor Attorney
If you or a loved one was charged with a misdemeanor – called a “disorderly persons offense” in New Jersey – talk to an attorney right away. While many people may argue you do not need an attorney for a disorderly persons offense, you may risk the potential of jail time, fines, and a criminal record. Do not risk these penalties by handling your case without a lawyer.
The Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych work in Atlantic City and throughout South Jersey, fighting criminal charges. For a free, confidential consultation on your disorderly persons charges, contact our lawyers today at (609) 800-9242.