New Jersey, like other states, has an extensive penal code. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice defines every action considered criminal behavior in New Jersey. These codes are found in the New Jersey Statutes Title 2C. The laws cover everything from human cloning (2C11.A1) to dispensing contact lenses without a license (2C40.25).
New Jersey divides crimes into categories: crimes against people, property, family members, public administration, and public order. There is a sixth category for racketeering and organized crime. Crimes are also classified as:
- Indictable offenses (felonies)
- Disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors)
- Petty disorderly persons offenses (infractions)
This review of New Jersey's criminal laws explains the types of crimes and penalties in New Jersey. If you have other questions about criminal law or need a criminal defense attorney, FindLaw's attorney referral page can help you.
Every state has its own method for defining and classifying crimes, from the most serious to least serious. In New Jersey, the most serious crimes are indictable offenses. Unlike many states, New Jersey requires a grand jury indictment for felony crimes.
Indictable offenses also have "degrees." The degree of an offense determines the severity of the sentence.
- First-degree indictable offenses include homicide, rape, drug trafficking, and aggravated assault.
- Second-degree offenses include criminal sexual contact, aggravated arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, drug distribution, and theft by extortion.
- Third-degree offenses are drug possession, arson and robbery without aggravating circumstances, perjury, and terroristic threats.
- Fourth-degree crimes are stalking, simple robbery, some DUI crimes, forgery, and similar crimes.
Inchoate crimes, such as conspiracy, solicitation, or attempt to commit a crime, are related offenses to these crimes. “Criminal mischief," a catch-all term for criminal behavior, is seldom used today except in juvenile court.
"Aggravating circumstances" bump a crime up a level or from a disorderly person offense to an indictable offense. For instance, robbery by threat is a third-degree offense. Robbery using a handgun becomes aggravated robbery and a second-degree offense. Any crime committed on or near school property is subject to enhancements.
Disorderly Persons Offenses
New Jersey does not use the terms "felony" and "misdemeanor" in its criminal statutes. A disorderly person offense is the same crime as a misdemeanor elsewhere. A disorderly person offense is less serious than an indictable offense. That said, it still carries serious penalties, including possible jail time, fines, and loss of professional licensing.
There is only one degree of crime for disorderly persons offenses.
Disorderly persons offenses are "summary" offenses, meaning they do not need a jury trial. They also do not need a grand jury indictment for a criminal complaint.
All types of crimes can be disorderly person offenses, including:
- Simple assault
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana
- Resisting arrest
- Obstruction of law enforcement
- Disorderly conduct
- Public lewdness
- Shoplifting less than $200
- Nonsexual harassment
In New Jersey, disorderly persons offenses have a "presumption of non-incarceration." If this is your first offense or you've had few other interactions with the courts, the courts assume you will not receive jail time. You may be eligible for a conditional discharge for some offenses. An attorney can explain your options and defenses.
There is a five-year waiting period for expungement following the successful completion of your sentence. Expungement is available for felonies and disorderly persons convictions. Obtaining a court order of expungement is complex and requires an attorney's assistance.
Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses
Below indictable and disorderly persons offenses are petty offenses. Petty disorderly persons offenses are mainly categorized by the seriousness of the criminal activity. (In other states, these crimes may be called infractions or petty misdemeanors.) They may include simple battery, mutual combat, or cursing in public.
Petty offenses have fines of less than $500 and less than a month in jail. They can seem like minor matters, not worth worrying about, but consider the presumption of non-incarceration for a disorderly person offense. Multiple petty criminal offenses can remove that presumption even if they did not result in jail time.
Penalties and Defenses
In New Jersey, the Superior Court hears indictable offenses. Disorderly persons offenses stay in the municipal court where the offense occurred.
New Jersey court rules guarantee a right to a jury trial for any defendant facing more than six months in jail. Most disorderly persons offenses will not have a sentence greater than six months, so you will not have the option of a jury trial.
That does not mean you cannot present a legal defense. Defendants in bench trials — where a judge determines the facts rather than a jury — still have the right to present evidence and call witnesses on their behalf. Your attorney can also negotiate with the state or county prosecutor on your behalf for diversion programs or reduced sentencing.
New Jersey courts return criminal sentencing on the same day as the verdict. This gives defendants little time to get their affairs in order. The penalties vary according to the severity of the crime. Some crimes have a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment besides the ranges listed here.
|Level of Crime
- 10-30 years in prison (or life, for crimes like murder)
- Fines up to $200,000
- 5-10 years in prison
- Fines up to $150,000
- 3-5 years in prison
- Fines up to $15,000
- Up to 18 months in prison
- Fines up to $10,000
|Disorderly persons offenses
- Up to six months in jail
- Fines up to $1,000
|Petty disorderly persons offenses
- Up to 30 days in jail
- Fines up to $500.
Offenders may also face forfeiture of their driver's license, loss of driving privileges, restraining orders, and other penalties.
Defenses to Disorderly Persons Crimes
Most crimes have statutes of limitation, meaning there is a deadline for the prosecution to file criminal charges. For nearly all disorderly persons crimes, the statute of limitations is one year. A common defense to disorderly persons crimes is the statute of limitations defense — a claim that the prosecution failed to bring charges in a timely manner.
Another possible defense is lack of probable cause. Since these crimes do not require a grand jury indictment before indictment, there must be sufficient cause to charge the defendant. Your attorney can explain these and other defenses, such as affirmative defenses, for your case.
When you're looking for a New Jersey criminal defense attorney, make sure you find one in your area. They can answer the questions about court rules in your local courthouse.