The Difference Between Disorderly Conduct and Disorderly Persons Charges in NJ

Disorderly persons charges are often confusing for those unfamiliar with New Jersey’s legal system.  In the Garden State, crimes are not referred to as felonies and misdemeanors but instead use the terms “indictable crime” and “disorderly persons offense” for the two major levels of crime.  Disorderly conduct is a specific crime, which happens to be classified as a type of disorderly persons offense.  The Atlantic City disorderly conduct lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych break down the differences between these two terms and how they are related.

Disorderly Persons Offenses and Charges in NJ

If you are charged with a criminal offense, it will either be classified as a type of “crime” or a “disorderly persons offense.”  Crimes are classified as first, second, third, or fourth degree crimes based on their severity.  Each of these levels comes with a standard range of punishments, including a prison sentence and potential fine.

Disorderly persons offenses are lower levels of crime which carry a maximum jail sentence of 6 months.  Most disorderly persons offenses have a max fine of $1,000, but some of these offenses are considered even less severe.  These “petty disorderly persons offenses” carry a max fine of only $500.

For these kinds of offenses, judges commonly issue fines only.  Though jail time is a potential penalty, judges typically only order jail time when the crime involves violence, serious harm, or repeat offenders.  However, judges may use the jail sentence as a route to ordering you to serve probation.  This may mean avoiding jail time if you are able to comply with the terms of probation, but it ensures that the government has some oversight and supervision over you while you are on probation.

Most disorderly persons offenses are relatively minor crimes, but they do cover a wide range of conduct.  For instance, disorderly conduct is classified as a disorderly persons offense, and it is a relatively low-level offense.  However, soliciting prostitution, simple assault, and certain theft offenses may also be graded as disorderly persons offenses.

Disorderly Conduct Charges in New Jersey

Disorderly conduct is a specific criminal offense under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-2.  Disorderly conduct charges punish actors who cause alarm or annoy others in public places, start fights, create hazards, or use offensive language.  This crime has multiple specific subsections that define different ways the crime can be charged.

The first subsection of the disorderly conduct statute deals with “[engaging] in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior.”  In many cases, hitting another person can be charged as assault, which carries similar penalties.  However, disorderly conduct may have a lower fine and carry less weight on a criminal record.

The second subsection deals with “hazardous or physically dangerous condition[s] by an act which serves no legitimate purpose.”  This phrasing is very awkward, but it is usually taken to include any sort of dangerous activities that might disturb the peace.  Things like setting off fireworks or “stink bombs” could qualify under this subsection.

Lastly, using “unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language” in a public place can lead to disorderly conduct charges.  This can include things like cursing out a police officer or store employee as well as being loud and drunk while walking through a residential area at night.

No matter which subsection you are charged with, disorderly conduct is an example of a petty disorderly persons offense.  That means that the maximum penalties you can face for disorderly conduct charges are up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $500.

Plea Deals for Disorderly Persons and Disorderly Conduct Charges

Sometimes, disorderly conduct can be used as part of a plea deal to achieve lower penalties than other charges.  For example, while assault is usually a full disorderly persons offense with a potential fine of $1,000, engaging in fighting as a disorderly conduct charge has a max fine of $500.  In addition, when your criminal record shows “disorderly conduct,” it likely does not go into much detail about the event, helping protect you from automatic judgments based on the crimes listed on your record.

If you are charged with a first-time offense classified as a disorderly persons offense, you may be able to avoid a conviction for the offense.  New Jersey offers programs for first-time offenders charged with a disorderly persons offense that allows them to avoid charges by performing community service, attending anger management classes, seeking substance abuse treatment, or participating in other programs to help them.  A judge and prosecutor may agree to drop charges upon successful completion of these programs, avoiding a conviction for any qualifying disorderly persons offense.  This applies to disorderly conduct charges as well as other disorderly persons charges.

Atlantic City Disorderly Conduct Lawyer Offering Free Consultations

If you or a loved one was charged with disorderly conduct or another disorderly persons offense in South Jersey, talk to the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today.  Our attorneys help you fight your case to get charges dropped and penalties reduced.  For a free consultation, call our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.

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