Our criminal defense law firm is based in Philadelphia, but maintains an office in Burlington County, New Jersey, which represents clients not only there but also in Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland, and Mercer Counties. The New Jersey criminal justice court system is divided into the Municipal and Superior Courts.
New Jersey Municipal Court
There are 539 municipal courts in New Jersey with each city, township, or borough maintaining their own court. Municipal courts in New Jersey are ones of limited jurisdiction and have responsibility over motor vehicle, parking tickets, minor criminal offenses [simple assault, bad checks, driving while intoxicated (DWI), shoplifting, municipal ordinance violations (building code violations) and other offenses pertaining to fishing and gaming laws]. These limited jurisdiction courts are located within the boundaries of municipalities within the counties and do not have jurisdiction over more serious crimes such as robbery, auto/car theft, homicide, aggravated assault, most drug offenses, and illegal firearm or gun offenses (Graves Act) within the Garden State.
Indictable Crimes vs. Offenses in New Jersey
In New Jersey, offenses that are often refered to as felonies in other states such as Pennsylvania are called “indictable offenses” or crimes in the Garden State. The term offense in New Jersey, often referred to as a misdemeanor in other states, is known as a disorderly persons offense. Petty disorderly offenses are known as summary offenses in other jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania.
A disorderly persons offense is one where a person can be arrested but the matter will be heard in New Jersey Municipal Court. Unlike a crime, a New Jersey prosecutor won’t put the case before a New Jersey grand jury and a person charged with a disorderly person offense isn’t entitled to a jury trial.
The most common disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey include:
- Shoplifting (under $200)—Section 2C: 20-11
- Simple Assault—Section 2C: 12-1
- Disorderly Conduct
- Theft/theft of Services (under $200)—Section 2C: 20-8
- Obstruction of Justice
- Resisting Arrest—Section 2C: 29-2
The most common disorderly person offenses in New Jersey include:
- Harassment—Section 2C: 29-2
- Fighting—Section 2C: 12(a)3
Degrees of Indictable Offenses in New Jersey
Indictable crimes in New Jersey are reserved for more serious offenses, which are referred to as felony offenses in other jurisdictions. Indictible offenses are further classified based on degrees ranging from the 1st to 4th degree with the 1st degree reserved for the most serious crimes. Unlike disorderly person offenses, indictable crimes provide an accused person with the right to have his or her case presented to a grand jury before the individual is formally indicted. Indictible crimes or offenses are heard in Superior Court and if indicted, the accused person has a right to a trial by jury.
Maximum Penalties for Offenses and Crimes in New Jersey
A person charged with disorderly person offenses faces a maximum of a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail whereas a person charged with a petty disorderly offense faces up to 30 days in jail and a maximum of a $500 fine. Indictable offenses or crimes have much more serious criminal consequences which are as follows:
- 1st degree—20 years in state prison, $200,000 fine
- 2nd degree—10 years in state prison, $150,000 fine
- 3rd degree—5 years in state prison, $15,000 fine
- 4th degree—18 months in jail, $10,000 fine
Statute of Limitation & Diversion Programs for Disorderly Persons Offense in New Jersey
This is a one year statute of limitations for disorderly person offenses, which means the criminal complaint alleging a crime like simple assault, harassment, bad checks, resisting arrest, or possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, must be filed in municipal court within one year of the commission of the offense. If a person is convicted of a disorderly person offense, he or she may petition the court for an expungement 5 years following the conviction or completion of probation, provided the person has no more than 3 convictions. The most common diversion program within municipal court for disorderly person offenses is known as a Conditional Discharge, which allows individuals charged with possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana to avoid a conviction provided they meet certain requirements.
For more great information about criminal justice matters in New Jersey, I encourage you to keep reading my blog!