In New Jersey, offenses are not categorized as felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions but rather as indictable crimes, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses. Disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses are similar to misdemeanors in other states, because they are less serious offenses, punishable by less than six months in jail. Indictable offenses closely resemble felonies and serious misdemeanors in other states.
This article will discuss disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses, including possible sentences and sentence alternatives. Learn more about indictable offenses in New Jersey Felony (Indictable Offense) Crimes by Class and Sentences
In New Jersey, offenses punishable by less than six months' imprisonment fall under the classification of disorderly persons offenses.
Disorderly persons offenses carry up to six months' jail time and a $1,000 fine. Examples of disorderly persons offenses include simple assault, shoplifting involving less than $200, and resisting arrest.
Because disorderly persons offenses are not considered crimes in New Jersey, a defendant doesn't have a right to a jury trial. The defendant retains the right to counsel. A court must appoint counsel if the defendant cannot afford one and the judge determines a likelihood of imprisonment or other significant consequences exist upon conviction.
(N.J. Stat. §§ 2A:158A-5.2; 2C:43-3, -8 (2020); N.J. Mun. Ct. R. 7:3-2 (2020).)
Generally speaking, most sentencing hearings for low-level offenses occur immediately after the defendant pleads or is found guilty. (For indictable crimes, a sentencing hearing could take place days, weeks, or months later.) The judge might enter the sentence agreed upon in a plea bargain or hand down a different sentence.
The law gives judges several options in handing down sentences for disorderly persons offenses, including jail time, probation, community service, court costs, fines, and, in certain cases, suspension of driving privileges. A sentence might include one or several of these options. Any jail time must be limited to 30 days or six months depending on the offense level. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:43-2 (2020).)
New Jersey offers several sentencing alternatives to jail time. Certain options offer a defendant the chance to avoid a conviction and, sometimes, a criminal record.
New Jersey's law authorizes use of pretrial intervention (PTI) programs and Veterans Diversion Programs. PTI programs provide offenders an opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution by receiving early rehabilitative services (such as substance abuse treatment). The Veterans Diversion Program focuses on treatment of mental health issues. Acceptance into either program is up to the prosecutor. Compliance with these programs results in the dismissal of the charges. If the defendant is not successful, the prosecution can move forward. (N.J. Stat. §§ 43-12, -13, -26 (2020).)
New Jersey's conditional dismissal program only applies to first-time offenders who have not already undergone a similar program. Defendants charged with certain offenses are not eligible for the program, such as those involving gangs, organized crime, domestic violence, abuse of a vulnerable victim, or driving under the influence (DUI).
If eligible, the defendant pleads guilty and the judge places the defendant under a probation monitoring status for one year. This time period can be extended to allow the defendant more time to pay financial obligations of the sentence. Upon successful completion of the program, the judge may dismiss the proceedings and conviction. If the defendant violates any program terms, the judge proceeds with sentencing. (N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:43-13.1 to -13.6 (2020).)
Defendants who don't qualify for intervention, diversion, or dismissal might still be able to avoid all or a portion of the jail sentence if the court places the defendant on probation. Under this option, a judge suspends the jail term conditioned on the defendant's compliance with terms set by the court, which might include performing community service, serving time in a halfway house, completing weekend or evening jail time, or participating in training or educational programs. If the offense involved the use of a vehicle, the judge can also suspend driving privileges.
A defendant who successfully completes probation will still have a conviction but often avoids time behind bars. If the defendant violates probation, the judge can impose additional conditions or revoke probation and send the offender to jail. (N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:43-2 (2020).)
New Jersey offers several expungement options for disorderly persons offenses. Expunging a record seals it from public view, meaning potential landlords, employers, and other organizations will not know of its existence. The process for seeking an expungement depends on the charges and the result of the criminal proceedings.
If a person receives a dismissal by participating in a Veterans Diversion Program, the court may expunge all information relating to the arrest and dismissal immediately. For a PTI or conditional dismissal, the defendant must wait six months for expungement. A person may also petition for expungement of up to five disorderly persons offense convictions (including petties) once five years have passed since the most recent conviction. Check with your attorney to see if other expungement options or compelling circumstances might speed up the process in your specific case. (N.J. Stat. §§ 2C:52-3, -6 (2020).)
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. A criminal statute of limitations limits the length of time the state can wait before filing charges against a person. The limitation for filing disorderly persons offenses is generally one year. For more information on the criminal statute of limitations, see Criminal Statute of Limitations in New Jersey. (N.J. Stat. § 2C:1-6 (2020).)
Any conviction, even for a disorderly persons offense, carries consequences beyond sentencing. A criminal record can prevent you from qualifying for a loan, housing, or professional license. You could lose out on a job. And if you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case.
Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you understand all the ramifications of the charges against you. An attorney will help you understand the criminal justice process, explore options for diversion, and protect your rights.