Is My Criminal Charge a Felony or Misdemeanor?

In New Jersey the terms felony and misdemeanor will not be found on a criminal complaint.  New Jersey uses different terms for these offenses.  In New Jersey a felony is called an Indictable Offense or Crime.  There are four degrees of indictable offenses, 1-4, and they are tried by the County Prosecutor’s Office in the Superior Court. Misdemeanors are called Petty Offenses and there are two kinds: Disorderly Person and Petty Disorderly Person.

Below is some basic facts about indictable offenses and petty offenses.

Indictable Offenses

Indictable offenses are also referred to as crimes in New Jersey.  In most other states they are called felonies.  In New Jersey indictable offenses are prosecuted by the County Prosecutor in the local Superior Court.  Defendant’s also have the right to a trial by jury.  A defendant is also entitled to a grand jury hearing testimony and determining whether an indictment should be issued.  Only criminal cases which are indictable crimes have the right to a jury trial in New Jersey.

There are four degrees of crimes in New Jersey: first degree, second degree, thrid degree, fourth degree.  The difference in degree is based on the maximum amount of jail time a conviction could have levied against the defendant.  The sentence periods are:

  • First Degree Crimes carry a 10-20 year jail sentence.  
  • Second Degree Crimes carry a 5-10 year jail sentence.
  • Third Degree Crimes carry a 4-5 year jail sentence.
  • Fourth Degree Crimes carry a 1-1.5 year jail sentence.

Jail sentences for crimes are served in a State Prison.  The judge has the ability to issue probation instead of jail sentences.  In third and fourth degree crimes there is a presumption that alternate sentencing options will be used.  The Prosecutor can present evidence to overcome this presumption.  In first and second degree crimes there is a presumption that a jail sentence will be imposed.  A defendant can present evidence of why alternate sentencing options should be used.

For any indictable crime it is important to have a lawyer on your side.  Your lawyer will know the law and court procedures and will have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate the criminal justice system.  The system can be confusing but an attorney will be with you every step of the way fighting on your behalf and ensuring that your rights are protected.

Petty Offenses

In most states a crime below a felony is called a misdemeanor.  In New Jersey this class of criminal acts are called disorderly person offenses and petty disorderly person offenses.  These offenses are not considered crimes but being found guilty will give a defendant a criminal record.  These are also the most common class of criminal cases in New Jersey.  These cases are heard in the local Municipal Court where the offense occurred and the Municipal Prosecutor is in charge of prosecuting the case, not the County Prosecutor.  Defendants are not entitled to a trial by jury.  Instead the trial is held before the judge who determines whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

The severity of the charge will determine if it is a petty disorderly person offense or a regular disorderly person offense.  The penalties for a conviction are:

  • Disorderly Person Offense- Up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Petty Disorderly Person Offense- Up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Any jail sentence for a disorderly person offense or petty disorderly person offense is served in the local county jail run by the county Sheriff.  Attached to these basic charges is the potential for community service, court costs, VCCB fines and a SNE fine.  Additionally, the court could impose probation and even suspend or revoke a defendant’s driver’s license for up to 2 years. Keep in mind that losing your license has nothing to do with whether or not your disorderly persons offense involved a vehicle.

Penalties Common to Both Indictable Offenses and Petty Offenses

For both indictable crimes and petty offenses there are also other possible consequences.  These include:

  • Having a criminal record.
  • Immigration issues including possible deportation.
  • Loss of employment for state employees, teachers, stockbrokers, doctors, nurses, attorneys, and pharmacists.  These individuals could also lose their professional license.
  • Receiving more serious sentences if convicted of additional petty disorderly person offenses, disorderly person offenses, and/or indictable crimes in the future.

If you have been accused of any crime it is important to begin working with an attorney to prepare your defense as soon as possible.  Contact Jonathan Herron today to schedule a free consultation for your case.