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What are the New Jersey Crimes: Laws & Penalties

If you’re looking to get a handle on how crimes are defined and punished under New Jersey law, you’ve come to the right place. As a criminal defense attorney who has practiced in the Garden State for many years, I’m here to break it all down for you in plain English. We’ll cover everything from the different degrees of crimes to specific offenses and their penalties. So grab a cup of coffee and let‘s dive in!

How New Jersey Classifies Crimes

First things first – let’s talk about how New Jersey categorizes criminal offenses. The state divides crimes into two main buckets:

  1. Indictable crimes (a.k.a. felonies): These are the more serious offenses that are handled in Superior Court. There are four degrees, ranging from the most severe first degree crimes down to fourth degree offenses.
  2. Disorderly persons offenses (a.k.a. misdemeanors): These are less serious crimes that are dealt with in Municipal Court. They are further divided into disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different crime classifications in NJ:

Indictable Crimes Disorderly Persons Offenses
1st Degree Disorderly Persons Offense
2nd Degree Petty Disorderly Persons Offense
3rd Degree
4th Degree

The degree of the crime generally determines the range of penalties someone faces if convicted. We’ll get into those specifics shortly. For now, just know that first degree crimes carry the stiffest punishments while petty disorderly persons offenses have the lightest consequences.

Indictable Crimes and Penalties

Alright, let‘s take a closer look at indictable crimes, starting with the most serious offenses. Here are some examples of crimes in each degree category along with the potential prison sentences and fines:

First Degree Crimes

  • Examples: Murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery
  • Prison: 10-20 years (30 years to life for murder)
  • Fine: Up to $200,000

Second Degree Crimes

  • Examples: Aggravated assault, sexual assault, drug trafficking
  • Prison: 5-10 years
  • Fine: Up to $150,000

Third Degree Crimes

  • Examples: Burglary, possession of heroin/cocaine, theft over $500
  • Prison: 3-5 years
  • Fine: Up to $15,000 ($35,000 for drug crimes)

Fourth Degree Crimes

  • Examples: Stalking, forgery, some shoplifting offenses
  • Prison: Up to 18 months
  • Fine: Up to $10,000

Keep in mind, these are the ordinary sentences spelled out in the NJ Criminal Code. Many crimes, especially first and second degree offenses, carry even longer extended prison terms. For instance, the No Early Release Act (NERA) requires those convicted of violent first and second degree crimes like murder, manslaughter and robbery to serve at least 85% of their sentence before parole eligibility1.And don‘t forget about the fines! As you can see, they can really add up, especially for the more serious crimes. Plus, the judge can order you to pay restitution to the victim for any losses they suffered.

Disorderly Persons Offenses and Penalties

Now let‘s talk about those pesky disorderly persons offenses. While not as severe as indictable crimes, a conviction for a DP offense still lands you with a criminal record. Here‘s the scoop on these lower-level crimes:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
Just had my Divorce case settled 2 months ago after having a horrible experience with another firm. I couldn’t be happier with Claire Banks and Elizabeth Garvey with their outstanding professionalism in doing so with Spodek Law Group. Any time I needed questions answered they were always prompt in doing so with all my uncertainties after 30 yrs of marriage.I feel from the bottom of my heart you will NOT be disappointed with either one. Thanks a million.
Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
Hey, how you guys doing? Good afternoon my name is Anthony Williams I just want to give a great shout out to the team of. Spodek law group. It is such a honor to use them and to use their assistance through this whole case from start to finish. They did everything that they said they was gonna do and if it ever comes down to it, if I ever have to use them again, hands-down they will be the first law office at the top of my list, thank you guys so much. It was a pleasure having you guys by my side so if you guys ever need them, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and give them a call.
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Loveth Okpedo
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Bee L
Bee L
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divesh patel
divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.

Disorderly Persons Offenses

  • Examples: Simple assault, marijuana possession, shoplifting less than $200
  • Jail: Up to 6 months
  • Fine: Up to $1,000

Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses

  • Examples: Disorderly conduct, harassment, trespassing
  • Jail: Up to 30 days
  • Fine: Up to $500

Although the stakes are lower, you still don‘t want to mess around with disorderly persons offenses. Even a short jail stint and a few hundred bucks in fines is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, these suckers stay on your criminal record and can make life difficult when you’re applying for jobs, loans, professional licenses and the like.

Specific Crimes and Penalties

Whew, that was a lot of legal mumbo jumbo! Now that you’ve got a general framework, let’s break down some of the most commonly charged crimes in NJ and their specific penalties. We’ll hit a nice cross-section of offenses so you can see how this all plays out in the real world.

Drug Crimes

New Jersey takes drug crimes very seriously, whether you’re talking about simple possession or large-scale trafficking. The severity of the charge depends on factors like the type and quantity of drug involved. Check out these examples:

  • Marijuana possession (under 50g): Disorderly persons offense with up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine2.
  • Heroin possession: Third degree crime with 3-5 years in prison and up to $35,000 fine3.
  • Cocaine distribution (1/2 oz to 5 oz): Second degree crime with 5-10 years in prison and up to $150,000 fine4.

Theft Crimes

There are many different theft-related offenses in NJ, from shoplifting to carjacking. The degree of the charge is usually based on the dollar value of the stolen property. Here are a few common examples:

  • Shoplifting (less than $200): Disorderly persons offense with up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine5.
  • Theft by unlawful taking ($500-$75,000): Third degree crime with 3-5 years in prison and up to $15,000 fine6.
  • Carjacking: First degree crime with 10-30 years in prison and up to $200,000 fine7.

Violent Crimes

Violent crimes are among the most harshly punished offenses in New Jersey. Many carry long prison sentences, especially if the victim suffers serious injury or the defendant uses a weapon. Take a look:

  • Simple assault: Disorderly persons offense with up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine8.
  • Aggravated assault (causes serious bodily injury): Second degree crime with 5-10 years in prison and up to $150,000 fine9.
  • Armed robbery: First degree crime with 10-20 years in prison and up to $200,000 fine10.

White Collar Crimes

Just because white collar crimes are non-violent doesn‘t mean they aren‘t serious. Financial motivations are still criminal! Penalties depend on the amount of money involved in the fraud or theft. Here are some examples:

  • Bad checks (under $200): Disorderly persons offense with up to 6 months in jail and $1,000 fine11.
  • Forgery: Third degree crime with 3-5 years in prison and up to $15,000 fine12.
  • Money laundering: First degree crime with 10-20 years in prison and up to $200,000 fine if over $500,000 involved13.

Diversionary Programs

“Yikes, those are some heavy duty penalties! Is there any way to avoid the slammer?” Glad you asked! New Jersey does offer some alternatives to traditional prosecution for certain first-time offenders. The two main programs are:

  1. Pretrial Intervention (PTI): Available for first-time offenders charged with an indictable crime. Requires supervision for 1-3 years. If successfully completed, charges are dismissed14.
  2. Conditional Discharge: Available for first-time offenders charged with a disorderly persons offense, usually involving drugs or alcohol. Requires supervision for up to 1 year. If successfully completed, charges are dismissed15.

These programs aren’t a “get out of jail free” card. You still have to take responsibility for your actions and comply with conditions like community service, drug testing and restitution. And if you screw up, you can get booted from the program and prosecuted on the original charges. But for eligible defendants, PTI and conditional discharge offer a precious second chance to avoid the life-long consequences of a criminal conviction.

Expungement of Criminal Records

Let’s say you take a plea or get convicted of a crime in NJ. That offense is now part of your permanent criminal record for all the world to see (including employers, landlords, licensing boards, etc.). Bummer, right? Well, not necessarily! Many crimes are eligible for expungement, which basically seals your record and wipes the slate clean. Here are the general rules:

  • Indictable crimes: Eligible 5-10 years after completion of sentence, depending on the degree of crime16.
  • Disorderly persons offenses: Eligible 5 years after completion of sentence17.
  • Dismissals: Eligible immediately, including PTI and conditional discharge18.

There are a bunch of exceptions and waiting periods, so expungement can get tricky. For instance, convictions for the most serious crimes like murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault can never be expunged19. And you can only expunge up to 4 indictable offenses and an unlimited number of disorderly persons offenses20. But if you do qualify, expungement can be a game-changer in helping you move forward with your life without the stain of a criminal record.

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