In New Jersey, crimes are not categorized as felonies and misdemeanors but as indictable crimes, disorderly person offenses, and petty disorderly person offenses. An indictable offense in New Jersey is the equivalent of a felony in other states, because the sentence for any indictable offense is at least one year in prison. Disorderly person offenses and petty disorderly person offenses are the equivalent of misdemeanors in other states. For more information on those crimes, see New Jersey Misdemeanor (Disorderly Person) Crimes by Class and Sentences.
Indictable crimes in New Jersey are classified by degrees, from first through fourth, with first degree crimes being the most serious and fourth degree being the least serious. “Indictable” means that, to be charged with the crime, a grand jury must review the case and find that there is enough evidence to support a formal charge and require the defendant to stand trial for the crime. The grand jury produces a written statement, which is called an indictment.
Some crimes are classified at different degrees depending on whether the crime is a first or subsequent offense. For instance, stalking is a fourth degree crime for the first offense but a second or subsequent offense of stalking against the same victim is a third degree crime.
Under New Jersey law, the judge in a criminal case determines an appropriate sentence for each indictable crime according to a range of terms of imprisonment listed in New Jersey’s sentencing statute for each degree of offense.
The court can impose a basic prison sentence between 10 and 20 years or between 20, 25 or 30 years and life for certain crimes, such as murder. The court can also fine the person convicted of a first degree crime up to $200,000.
For a second degree felony, the court can impose a prison sentence between 5 and 10 years and a fine up to $150,000.
A court can sentence a defendant convicted of a third degree crime to a prison sentence between 3 and 5 years and a fine up to $15,000.
A defendant convicted of a fourth degree crime faces up to eighteen months in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
New Jersey law provides an ordinary term for each degree of indictable crimes such as the 3 – 5 year sentence for third degree offenses described above. The New Jersey sentencing statutes also require the courts to impose extended terms in certain cases, such as 20 years to life in prison for murder. Courts also are required to sentence offenders to a minimum of a certain term in prison for certain crimes or in certain circumstances. The judge in each case also often has the option to allow the defendant to serve all or a portion of a sentence on probation rather than in prison.
New Jersey law requires that a criminal prosecution begin within a certain amount of time after a crime is committed or believed to have been committed. This criminal statute of limitations limits the length of time the state can wait before filing charges against a person. The length of time varies for different crimes and some crimes, such as murder, have no time limit. For more information on the criminal statute of limitations, see Criminal Statute of Limitations in New Jersey.
A felony conviction (a conviction for an indictable crime in New Jersey) becomes part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another indictable crime or felony, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. Being a convicted felon can hurt you when you are looking for a job and applying to rent a house or apartment. Convicted felons lose the right to vote, to carry firearms, and to obtain certain professional licenses.
An experienced attorney can determine whether you have any grounds for dismissal of the charges against you, explore plea options, or represent you at trial. Only someone familiar with the local criminal court system and cases like yours will know how good your chances are for a favorable outcome in court or at the negotiating table. A knowledgeable attorney will take all of this into consideration, assist you in making decisions about your case, and protect your rights.