Statutes of limitations dictate how long the government has to charge you with a crime.  Many statutes of limitations are important restrictions on government power, and they work to keep old cases from catching up with you years later.  Most charges have statutes of limitations, but the rule rarely comes up for disorderly conduct because charges are usually brought immediately or forgotten about.  The Atlantic City disorderly conduct lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain New Jersey’s statute of limitations for disorderly conduct charges and how it might affect your case.

Disorderly Conduct Statute of Limitations in NJ

Disorderly conduct is a very low-level offense in New Jersey, but it can still carry the potential of up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $500.  If you are going to be arrested for disorderly conduct, it usually happens right away.  Police are called to investigate disturbances or disruptive behavior, and they arrive, issue any citations or make any arrests, then refer the case out to court.  After booking, your case is referred to prosecutors, and your formal charges are usually issued immediately.  This means that the statute of limitations usually does not come up in disorderly conduct offenses.

However, disorderly conduct charges could be brought retroactively as part of another investigation.  In cases where your identity or involvement with an offense remains hidden until some time after the offense occurs, there could be a substantial delay between when you commit the offense and when you are charged.  If this period takes longer than the statute of limitations allows, you can no longer be charged with the offense.

For disorderly conduct, New Jersey’s statute of limitations is one year.  New Jersey’s offenses are either classified as a “crime” (i.e., an “indictable crime”) or a “disorderly persons offense.”  Disorderly conduct is a “petty disorderly persons offense,” a low-level crime.  Because this offense is relatively low-leveled, it has a short limitations period.

How Do Statutes of Limitations Work in NJ?

Statutes of limitations apply in both civil and criminal cases.  In both situations, the party who brings the charges or allegations is the one limited by the statute.  This prevents particularly old cases from coming to court.  More serious crimes have increased statutes of limitations, and crimes like murder have no statute of limitations whatsoever.  Most “crimes” carry a statute of limitations of 5 years, meaning that those offenses can be discovered and prosecuted some time after the offense occurred.  With disorderly persons offenses like disorderly conduct, police need to act quickly to discover the crime and bring charges within one year.

If you are charged with an offense after the statute of limitations has already run, you may be able to ask the court to dismiss the case.  Since the law no longer authorizes penalties after the statute of limitations runs, your case must be thrown out.  This means that, as the defendant, you can raise the statute of limitations as a complete defense to charges against you.  An attorney can help you properly raise this defense to ensure that charges are dropped or dismissed.

Statutes of limitations are in place for a number of reasons.  First, it is important that charges are filed quickly to ensure evidence and witness memory are intact.  If police wait too long, they could be using unreliable, old, or outdated evidence, records, or witness statements.  Second, it is unfair to defendants to have the potential of being charged lurking behind their back for years.  If you committed a crime, it isn’t worth the stress and anxiety to fear potential charges catching up to you.  Third, the courts need a cut-off point to help save money and time.  If police and prosecutors could bring every old, expired case that came across their desk, courts would waste more time and money on cases that rely on old, unreliable evidence of forgotten events.

When Does the Statute of Limitations Apply in NJ Criminal Cases?

The statute of limitations dictates how long the government has to bring charges against you.  If you are immediately charged with an offense after it happens, the statute of limitations usually longer applies.  Once the police file charges, you are either kept in jail or released on bail while you await trial.  The statute of limitations no longer matters during this period, because the charges were already filed.  Police and prosecutors are then governed by New Jersey’s speedy trial laws, instead.

Statutes of limitations can still come up in one situation after you are charged.  If your charges are dismissed because of insufficient evidence or bad police work, the government may be able to re-file the case against you.  If they can find additional evidence and re-file charges, they still need to follow the original statute of limitations period, or else the case can be thrown out.

Atlantic City Disorderly Conduct Lawyers Offering Free Consultations

If you or your child was charged with a crime like disorderly conduct in New Jersey, talk to an attorney right away.  The Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych may be able to take your case and fight the charges against you.  For a free consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956.