Criminal offenses across the country are grouped into different categories of crime type, level of seriousness, and potential penalties. The classification of a criminal offense is often one of the first and most important pieces of information relating to a criminal charge. This classification can impact both the maximum and a potential sentence if someone is convicted of a crime. New Jersey has a fairly uncommon approach to crime classification, where the state forgoes the terms misdemeanor and felony in favor of a different system that is discussed below. If you are facing a criminal charge, then it is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What is a Disorderly Persons Offense?
In most states, crimes are generally classified as misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanor offenses are generally lower-level offenses, while felony offenses are the more serious offenses. In New Jersey, crimes are either classified as a first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree offense, or a disorderly persons offense. The offenses broken up by degree are what would generally be considered felony offenses, while a disorderly persons offense is New Jersey's equivalent of a misdemeanor offense. One more category of offenses that resides below disorderly persons offenses is known as petty disorderly persons offenses. Disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses are not technically considered “crimes” according to New Jersey law. Because they are considered offenses and not crimes, those who are charged with disorderly persons offenses are not afforded the right to a jury trial.
Even though disorderly persons offenses are not considered “crimes” under New Jersey law, they are still criminal in nature and can result in a criminal record and a jail sentence. A disorderly persons offense conviction also may or may not be eligible for later expungement. If a conviction is not eligible for later expungement, then it stands to permanently appear on an individual's criminal record, which can have its own set of consequences.
What Are Some Examples of Disorderly Persons Offenses in New Jersey?
There is a litany of disorderly persons offenses that exist under New Jersey law. Some of the most common disorderly persons offenses include:
- Resisting arrest
- Marijuana possession of less than 50 grams
This is a small list of crimes that can be charged as disorderly persons offenses. Many crimes that are disorderly persons offenses are capable of being enhanced into a felony-level charge depending on the circumstances. For example, cases that involve theft are largely charged on the value of the amount alleged to have been stolen. Similarly, assaultive cases are largely charged on the level of harm to an alleged victim and how the alleged victim was threatened. Make sure you speak to an attorney directly about your disorderly persons offense if you are facing a charge.
What are the Potential Punishments for a Disorderly Persons Offense in New Jersey?
Disorderly persons offenses cannot result in state prison time in New Jersey. The maximum possible penalty for a disorderly persons offense conviction in New Jersey is six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. The lower-level petty disorderly offenses carry a maximum sentence of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. A court can also order an offender to serve probation, perform community service, and can even suspend the offender's driver's license in certain circumstances. If an offender violates any probationary terms set by the judge, then that offender faces the possibility of being sent to jail up to the maximum on the original charge.
Collateral Consequences of a Disorderly Persons Offense Conviction
Along with the direct punishment that a judge can order for a disorderly persons offense conviction, a conviction can have several other lasting effects. Having a disorderly persons offense conviction can prevent you from qualifying for certain employment, housing, and even government loans. Assaultive offenses and offenses involving dishonesty or theft can often turn into a massive hurdle for those convicted long after their sentence is complete with the court. You may also run into immigration problems as some disorderly persons offenses can be considered a crime of moral turpitude. This can result in a non-citizen being deemed deportable, inadmissible, and can even result in a visa being canceled. Certain disorderly persons convictions may also prevent you from being able to enlist in a branch of the United States Military.
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Disorderly Persons Offense Charge?
A statute of limitations is a time limit on how long someone has to bring a case against someone else. Statutes of limitations can apply to cases that are criminal or civil in nature. Statutes of limitations vary depending on the type of case that might be filed. The statute of limitations for disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey is generally one year. This means that a case must be filed within a year of an alleged incident or else it cannot be filed at all. This is a general rule, and you should consult the New Jersey Revised Statutes for more specific details relating to specific offenses.
What Kind of Sentencing Alternatives Exist for a Disorderly Persons Offense?
While judges are within their power to send everyone convicted of a disorderly persons offense to jail, it is not in the public interest that they do so. There are several other measures that a judge can take to appropriately punish and rehabilitate people without sending them to jail. The most common sentencing alternatives for disorderly persons offenses include:
- Pre-Trial Intervention: A disorderly persons offense may qualify for pre-trial intervention to resolve your case. Pre-trial intervention is generally only granted by the prosecutor. If you are granted pre-trial intervention, then at the end of your probationary period, your disorderly persons offense charges will be dismissed entirely. Pre-trial intervention is generally only available to first-time offenders who are nonviolent. Pre-trial intervention probation can last up to three years, and you must make your request for pre-trial intervention in writing within 28 days of being charged. If you are denied entry into pre-trial intervention, then you have the right to appeal the decision to a superior court judge.
- Veterans Diversion: A disorderly persons offense may qualify for a veteran diversion program if the individual charged is a military veteran. Veterans diversion programs offers specific mental health and substance abuse treatment programs that are beneficial to many that are in the program. If an individual successfully completes a veterans diversion program, then the original charges are dismissed entirely. This dismissal works similar to a dismissal earned through pre-trial intervention.
- Conditional Dismissal Program: Under this program, an individual pleads guilty to an eligible offense and is placed on probation for one year. If the individual completes all of the terms imposed successfully, then the judge may dismiss the case at the end of the probationary period. If the individual violates any terms of his or her probation, then the judge can continue with sentencing, which can result in a jail sentence.
Regular probation is also considered a sentencing alternative that keeps people out of jail. To see if you qualify for an alternative sentencing measure, make sure you speak directly to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Expunging a Disorderly Persons Offense in New Jersey
If you have a disorderly persons offense on your record, then you may be able to have the offense removed through the expungement process. Expungement allows an individual to have an offense removed from a public criminal record once the statutory period has passed. In New Jersey, you must wait five years before you can apply for expungement.
More specifically, to be eligible to expunge a disorderly persons offense, an individual must have no pending charges and no more than three (3) disorderly persons convictions, in addition to never having been convicted of a felony. Furthermore, five (5) years must have passed since the date of conviction, payment of fines, successful completion of probation, or release from incarceration (whichever is later). In other words, a disorderly persons conviction will follow an individual for a minimum of 5 years (absent defense and/or a downgrade of the charge). (NJS 2C:52-3).
In sum, disorderly persons offenses are serious, from a criminal record standpoint, and also the more immediate consequences which can include up to six (6) months in jail, fines, probation, and even driver's license suspension as referenced above.
How an Attorney Can Help with a Disorderly Persons Offense Charge
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you assess the strength of any case against you and its weaknesses. If you have potential legal defenses to an offense, then your attorney can help explore how to use those defenses to help you. It is important to understand the parameters of your case so you can make confident and intelligent decisions on how to proceed. If you have legal questions, then the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are standing by to help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you are facing a disorderly persons offense charge in New Jersey, then make sure to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Disorderly persons offenses are treated seriously by the court. Understanding the issues in your disorderly persons offense charge is critical to formulating the appropriate defense strategy. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help you find success defending your charge. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice to help you fight your disorderly persons offense charge, call us toll-free at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.