Criminal Law in New Jersey

Classification of Crimes

In New Jersey, crimes are ranked by degree: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, with 1st degree crimes being the most serious (e.g. murder) and 4th degree being the least serious (e.g. possession of over 50 grams of marijuana).  These are known as indictable crimes and are handled in the Superior Court.

Graded below these are disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses. Technically, these are not crimes, they are offenses. They are commonly referred to as “misdemeanors.” 

Continuing downward in severity, we next have MUNICIPAL ORDINANCES.  Each municipality or town creates its own ordinances so they can vary widely from town to town.  Common examples of ordinances regulate zoning, trash storage/disposal and noise levels.

Criminal Penalties

Some crimes carry penalties which are unique to that particular charge.  Certain offenses, for example murder, carry enhanced jail terms of (30 years without parole) and repeat offenders for any crime subject to enhanced penalties. 

Some crimes are subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA) which requires a defendant to serve at least 85% of his/her time before being eligible for parole.

Generally, the following penalties apply to all criminal code violations

1st DEGREE:

  • 10 – 20 years in State Prison and/or
  • Up to $200,000.00 Fine
  • Mandatory $75.00 to the Safe Neighborhood Fund (SNFS)
  • Mandatory $50.00 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB)

 2nd DEGREE: 

  • 5 – 10 years in State Prison and/or
  • Up to $150,000.00 Fine
  • Mandatory $75.00 to the Safe Neighborhood Fund (SNFS)
  • Mandatory $50.00 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB)

 3rd DEGREE:

  • 3 – 5 years in State Prison and/or
  • Up to $15,000.00 Fine
  • Mandatory $75.00 to the Safe Neighborhood Fund (SNFS)
  • Mandatory $50.00 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB)

 4th DEGREE:

  • Up to eighteen (18) months in State Prison and/or
  • Up to $10,000.00 Fine
  • Mandatory $75.00 to the Safe Neighborhood Fund (SNFS)
  • Mandatory $50.00 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB)

 DISORDERLY PERSONS OFFENSES:  

  • Up to six (6) months in County Jail and/or
  • Up to $1,000.00 fine
  • Probation up to one (1) year, in the court’s discretion
  • Mandatory $75.00 to the Safe Neighborhood Fund ( SNFS)
  • Mandatory $50.00 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB)
  • $39.00 in court costs and assessments

 PETTY DISORDERLY PERSONS OFFENSE:

  • Up to (30) days in County Jail and/or
  • Up to a $500.00 fine
  • Probation up to one (1) year, in the court’s discretion
  • Mandatory $75.00 to the Safe Neighborhood Fund (SNFS)
  • Mandatory $50.00 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB)
  • $39.00 for court costs and assessments

 ORDINANCES:

  • Up to $1,200.00 in fines and/or
  • Up to thirty (30) days in jail and
  • $39.00 for court costs and assessments.

 

DO’S AND DON’TS AFTER BEING ARRESTED

DO seek medical attention and be sure to have medical reports and photos if you have sustained any injury during an arrest.

DO contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your matter and get legal advice while you still remember the sequence of events.

DO get the names and addresses/phone numbers of any witnesses to the arrest or the conduct alleged against you. 

DON’T discuss your case with anyone but an attorney or anything you say can or will be held against you.

DON’T discuss your situation with any police officers.  Some police officers will try to get you to say certain things so you think they are helping you.  They may say they’ll go easy on you if you cooperate -- and this may be true -- but any such negotiations must be confirmed in writing prior to giving a statement.

DON’T say anything to law enforcement without consulting an attorney first.

DON’T discuss your case with anyone other than an attorney.  Statements you make to other people – even friends – can be used against you.

PRE-TRIAL INTERVENTION PROGRAM

(PTI) is available for anyone charged with a 3rd or 4th degree crime who has no previous convictions for anything other than motor vehicle offenses

PTI is a program that provides early rehabilitative services and solves many personal problems which may result from the conditions of the crime which was caused by the defendant.

Some benefits of PTI are as follows:

  • You can obtain rehabilitative services soon after the alleged offense.
  • Once PTI is completed the defendant’s charges are dismissed.
  • You can still have your arrest record expunged even if you complete PTI.   

You are not entitled to PTI.  You can be denied admission into the program based upon any of the following:

  • Prior Convictions on your record
  • If you are on parole or probation
  • Any minor violations
  • Jurisdiction
  • Residence
  • Your age (PTI is primarily for adults)
  • Any prior admission to PTI or a conditional discharge.

How to apply for PTI: You should discuss this with a criminal attorney.

 

CONDITIONAL DISCHARGE

This is similar to PTI but is only for drug offenses in Municipal Court.  It is available for any person not previously convicted of any drug offense in this state of any other state who is charged with a drug or paraphernalia offense which can be heard in the municipal courts.  This would include possession of marijuana under 50 grams or possession of paraphernalia or any drug charge that was downgraded to municipal court.  Conditional Discharge is not available for criminal drug charges such as a possession of cocaine unless that charge is downgraded.

A person eligible will be placed on probation by the Court, typically for one year, with the conditions that they stay arrest free and drug free during that period of time.

 IMPORTANT: a conditional discharge can be done with a guilty plea or without a guilty plea.  We tell a client we will do it without a guilty plea because a guilty plea will subject them to a mandatory (6) months to (2) years loss of driving privileges.

Anyone who gets a conditional discharge will have to pay the following fees in court:

  • $500.00           D.E.D.R. Penalty
  • $  50.00           Lab Fee
  • $  75.00           Conditional Discharge Application Fee
  • $  50.00           V.C.C.B.
  • $  75.00           Safe Streets Fund 

 If the conditional discharge is completed, the charges are dismissed.  If not, the defendant faces prosecution on the original charges.  

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT SPECIFIC CRIMES
Aggravated Assault Harassment
Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact Lewdness
Arson Loitering
Aggravated Arson Obstruction of Law
Bad Checks Possession/Consumption of Alcoholic Beverage Underage
Burglary Possession of Drug Paraphernalia / Possession in a School Zone
Criminal Sexual Contact Robbery
Criminal Mischief Sexual Assault
Criminal Trespass Shoplifting
Disorderly Conduct Simple Assault
Drug Offenses Terroristic Threats
Endangering Welfare of a Child Theft by Deception
Forgery Unlawful Possession of Weapons

 

AGGRAVATED ASSAULT is a crime of either the 2nd, 3rd or 4th degree depending upon the person who was assaulted, the degree of injury or whether a weapon was used.  (2C:12a(b)).  Aggravated assault is when a person purposely or knowingly causes serious bodily injury to another or recklessly causes bodily injury with a deadly weapon.

AGGRAVATED CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONTACT is a crime of the 3rd Degree.  (2C:14-3) Aggravated criminal sexual contact is an act of sexual contact with a victim. 

ARSON is a crime in the 3rd degree.  (2C:17-1, et seq).  One who purposely starts a fire or causes an explosion whether it is his or someone’s property.

AGGRAVATED ARSON is crime of the 2nd degree.  (2C:17-1) One who purposely or knowingly starts a fire or causes an explosion with the purpose of destroying.

BAD CHECK PASSING is a crime of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree or a Disorderly Persons depending on the amount of the bad check (similar in grading to the theft statute).  (2C:21-5)   A person who knowingly issues or passes a check for payment of money that will not be honored by the drawee.

BURGLARY is either a 2nd or 3rd degree crime.  (2C:18-2) When a person purposely enters a structure without privilege or authorization.

CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONTACT is a crime of the 4th degree. (2C:14-3) An act of sexual contact with a victim. 

CRIMINAL MISCHIEF is a 3rd or 4th degree crime or a Disorderly Persons offense depending upon the amount of damage to property.  (2C:17-3) This is when a person purposely or knowingly damages property of another so as to endanger person or property.

CRIMINAL TRESPASS is either a 4th degree crime of a Disorderly Persons offense depending upon the type of trespassed area (e.g. private residence - 4th degree).  (2C:18-3) One who enters property without authorization from owner.

DISORDERLY CONDUCT is a petty disorderly persons offense.  (2C:33-2) One who causes public inconvenience or annoyance.  One who engages in fighting in a violent behavior and or creates a hazardous or physical condition.

DRUG OFFENSES

Possession, use/being under the influence, or failure to make a lawful disposition of CDS is a disorderly persons offense for possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana, a 4th degree crime for possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana and a fine of up to $15,000.00 may be imposed.  Otherwise, possession of CDS is a crime of the 3rd or 4th degree, depending upon the drug and its quantity, and a fine of up to $25,000.00 may be imposed for a 3rd degree crime.  (2C:35-10)

Additionally, any plea of guilty to any drug offense under Chapter 35 or 36 of Title 2C will invoke mandatory D.E.D.R. (Drug Enforcement Demand Reduction) penalties which include a drivers’ license suspension for 6 to 24 months and D.E.D.R. penalty as follows.

  • $3,000.00 for a 1st degree crime
  • $2,000.00 for a 2nd degree crime
  • $1,000.00 for a 3rd degree crime
  • $   750.00 for a 4th degree crime
  • $   500.00 for a disorderly persons offense or a petty disorderly persons offense.   (2C:35-15)

The Court will also assess $50.00 V.C.C.B. fee, $75.00 to the Safe Streets Fund, $30.00 court costs and $50.00 lab fee.

MANUFACTURING, DISTRIBUTING OR DISPENSING CDS is either a crime of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th degree, depending upon the drug and its quantity and the statute provides for enhanced fines (up to $300,000.00 for a 1st degree) and or course, mandatory D.E.D.R. penalties.  (2C:35-5).  One who possesses or has control with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance. 

DRUG DISTRIBUTION/OR POSSESSION WITHIN 1000 FEET OF A SCHOOL is 3rd degree, depending upon the drug and the statute requires a mandatory minimum jail term of at least one year for marijuana and three years for other CDS.  A fine of up to $100,000.00 may be imposed.   (2C:35-7)  One who possesses or has control with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance within 1,000 feet of school property. 

POSSESSION OF DRUG PARAPHERNALIA is a disorderly persons offense and a guilty plea invokes mandatory D.E.D.R. penalties.  (2C:36-2)   One who possesses with intent to use a controlled dangerous substance. 

LOITERING FOR THE PURPOSE OF ILLEGALLY USING, POSSESSION OR SELLING CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE is a disorderly persons offense.   (2C:33-2.1) One who wanders around a public place with the intent to purchase, use or sell a controlled dangerous substance.

ELUDING OFFICER in a motor vehicle is either 2nd or 3rd degree crime.  It is a 2nd degree crime if the attempt to elude creates a risk of death or injury to any person.  (2C:33-2) 

ENDANGERING WELFARE OF CHILD is a 2nd degree crime.  (2C:24-4) A person engages in sexual conduct with minor which would impair the morals of a child or cause harm to the child.

FORGERY is a crime of the 3rd or 4th degree depending upon the type of forged instrument.  (2C:21-1)  A person who purposely knowingly defrauds anyone.

HARASSMENT is a disorderly persons offense unless the purpose of the harassment is to intimidate an individual or group because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation or ethnicity, in which case it is a 4th degree crime.  (2C:33-4)

LEWDNESS is either a crime of the 4th degree or a D.P. depending upon the age of the victim of his mental capacity.  (2C:14-4) A person who engages in an offensive act knowing that it is being observed by another.

LOITERING: (2C:34-1.1)  A person who prowls or moves in a stealthy manner in a public place.

OBSTRUCTION OF LAW is a crime of the 4th degree or a disorderly persons offense.  If a person obstructs the detection or investigation of a crime it is a 4th degree offense.  (2C:29-1)

POSSESSION OR CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE IN PUBLIC PLACE OR MOTOR VEHICLE BY PERSON UNDER LEGAL AGE is a disorderly persons offense and carries a minimum fine of not less than $500.00 and if the offense is committed in a motor vehicle (driver or passenger) the court shall suspend their driving privileges for (6) months. (2C:33-15)

RESISTING ARREST is either a 4th degree crime or a Disorderly Persons offense.  It is a 4th degree crime if the actor uses or threatens to use physical force or violence against a law enforcement or another, or uses any means to create a substantial risk of causing physical injury to a public servant or another.   (2C:29-2)

ROBBERY is either a crime of the 1st or 2nd degree.  (2C:15-1) One who uses force upon another or threatens someone to commit a crime.

SEXUAL ASSAULT is a crime of the 2nd Degree and Aggravated Sexual Assault is a crime of the 1st Degree. (2C:14-2).  An act of sexual penetration with another by use of force.

SHOPLIFTING is a Disorderly Persons except that the code specifies the following penalties:

  • 1st Offense         up to a $500.00 fine 
  • 2nd Offense        $100.00 to $500.00 fine
  • 3rd Offense        $250.00 to $1,000.00 fine and mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail. 

The court can order restitution as well, if appropriated.  Jail of up to (6) months is possible of any offense.

SIMPLE ASSAULT is a disorderly person offense (2C:12-1(a)) unless it is a fight entered into by mutual consent that is a petty disorderly persons offense.  One who knowingly causes bodily injury to another.

TERRORISTIC THREATS  is a crime of the 3rd Degree.   (2C:12-3).  A person who threatens to commit a crime of violence or terrorizes another.

THEFT offenses are graded by the amount of the alleged theft.  The statute specifies specific penalties for the theft of certain items (e.g. theft of benefits under federal or state law) but generally:

  • 2nd Degree:      - $75,000.00 or more
  • 3rd Degree:      - $500.00 to $75,000.00
  • 4th Degree:       - $200.00 to $500.00

THEFT BY DECEPTION, THEFT BY EXTORTION AND RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY all graded by the amount of theft.  (2C:20-5 & 2C:20-7) One who obtains property from another in a false manner.

UNLAWFUL POSSESSION OF WEAPONS: Any person who knowingly has in their possession a machine gun, hand gun, rifle or shot gun without a permit (to purchase or carry) is guilty of a crime of the 3rd degree.  Possession of other weapons without any lawful use is a 4th degree crime.  (2C:39-5).  Guilty pleas on these offenses almost always mandate a forfeiture of the weapon, either by agreement or by a separate forfeiture proceeding.

EXPUNGEMENT

An expungement is the removal of all records on file with any court, correction, detention center, law enforcement that may have documentation pertaining to your arrests, charges, conviction and/or incarceration. After disposition of a charge, there are waiting periods before you are eligible for an expungement.  These time limits begin when your sentence is completed, not from the date you are sentenced.

INDICTABLE OFFENSES 10 years
DISORDERLY PERSON OFFENSE 5 years
PETTY DISORDERLY PERSON 5 years
BOROUGH ORDINANCE 2 years
CHARGES DISMISSED VIA PTI OR
CONDITIONAL DISCHARGE
6 months after dismissal

Not everyone qualifies for an expungement of a criminal record.  It depends upon many factors and combinations of factors.

CALL FOR A FREE EVALUATION OF YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION!