In New Jersey, crimes are not categorized as felonies and misdemeanors but as indictable crimes, disorderly person offenses, and petty disorderly person offenses. Disorderly person offenses and petty disorderly person offenses (DP offenses) are the equivalent of misdemeanors in other states, because they are less serious offenses and are punishable by less than one year in jail.
In New Jersey, the term “crime” refers to indictable crimes and the term “offense” refers to disorderly person offenses, and petty disorderly person offenses (DP offenses). The distinction is important because the terms indicate how serious a charge is – whether at the felony or misdemeanor level.
A petty disorderly person offense is the least serious criminal offense in New Jersey for which a person can be sentenced to time in jail. Petty disorderly offenses include disorderly conduct and harassment.
Disorderly person offenses are more serious offenses than petty disorderly person offenses and include possession of marijuana under 50 grams, assault, shoplifting, and resisting arrest.
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 DP offenses usually is one year. For more information on the criminal statute of limitations, see Criminal Statute of Limitations in New Jersey.
A conviction for a DP offense in New Jersey can become part of your permanent criminal record. If you are convicted later of another crime, the court can consider your prior conviction and impose a harsher sentence in the new case. A conviction for even a minor crime can hurt you when you are looking for a job, applying to rent a house or apartment, or applying for a professional license. A person convicted of possession of an illegal substance – even a tiny amount for personal use only – can be barred from ever receiving federal financial aid for students. A conviction for domestic violence can have serious consequences under the federal Violence Against Women Act.
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.