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What Is Considered a Petty Offense in NJ?

Posted on: August 2, 2022

Most people think of a crime as being a serious or violent offense directed toward another person, group, or organization: a felony. Although the term “petty offense” may include shoplifting or simple assault, most people think of a petty offense as something that does not carry with it jail time or a criminal record: they would be wrong.  

Most people who are charged with a petty offense are surprised when they find out they were charged with a crime in the first place. Petty offenses carry real consequences, and could alter your life in the blink of an eye.

New Jersey’s petty offenses are similar to misdemeanors in other states. Petty offenses are not as serious as those that fall into the category of a felony, but they can still dumbfound average law-abiding citizens who may not have even been aware that they were breaking the law.

A criminal record can affect your college career, your search for a good job, or your present job. It is important that you are fully aware of the different types of petty offenses in New Jersey and the consequences that come with them.

How Are Traffic Violations in New Jersey Categorized?  

Nearly all traffic violations in New Jersey are categorized as quasi-criminal offenses, carrying with them a fine or loss of license. Some traffic violations are more serious. Driving Under the Influence (DUI), for instance, can have harsh consequences, such as a loss of license, jail time, community service, and a mark on your record.

What Are the Different Types of Petty Offenses in New Jersey?  

First it is important to understand that in New Jersey, there are indictable offenses, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses. These categories are different from what is found in many other states, some of which list offenses as felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions.

Indictable offenses require that evidence be presented to a grand jury. If the grand jury feels that the evidence presented is strong enough to go to trial, an indictment is given, the defendant is charged, and the case is sent to a criminal court. Indictable offenses carry with them a minimum of one year in prison.

Petty disorderly persons offenses and disorderly persons offenses do not require a grand jury; they are filed in municipal court. Cases in these categories will be decided by a judge instead of a jury. Indictable offenses are listed as a crime, and offenses are either a “disorderly persons offense” or a “petty disorderly persons offense.”

Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses

A petty disorderly persons offense is the least serious offense with which you can be charged. Petty disorderly offenses carry with them up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. A disorderly persons offense is the more serious of the two offenses, albeit still a lower-grade charge, comparable to a misdemeanor. It carries with it a fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. A judge may even suspend or revoke the driver’s license of a person who is found guilty. 

Petty disorderly offenses include disorderly conduct and harassment.

Harassment covers a range of offenses. These include annoying or alarming someone by contacting that person anonymously or during inconvenient hours, or by using offensive language; striking, shoving, touching, or threatening someone; and threatening, ridiculing, or bullying someone.  

Although harassment can take place in a single act, repetitive acts of annoying or alarming someone is a typical form and description of harassment. Harassment can take place in person, on the phone, via social media, or through text or email messages. It could also take place by communication through a third party, such as children.

Disorderly conduct includes improper behavior and offensive language.

Charges for improper behavior include fighting, threatening, engaging in violent behavior, and creating a dangerous situation; protesting, refusing to follow instructions from law enforcement, and participating in a large and unlawful gathering.  

Offensive language charges are almost always made against individuals that use obscene or offensive language in public places in order to offend or harass someone. The types of language include racially motivated language or epithets, abusive language, or profanity.

Common public places where offensive language is not tolerated by law are schools, parks, businesses, movie theaters, concerts, bus or train stations, airports, and highways. Neighborhoods also qualify as a public place. For instance, using offensive language against a neighbor can result in a petty disorderly persons charge.

It is important to note that although petty disorderly persons offense and disorderly persons offense may intersect according to the circumstances, there is a general distinction between the two. For instance, shoplifting, simple assault, and resisting arrest are clearly defined as a disorderly persons offense and will usually face the stricter penalties of the two. On the contrary, most of the previously mentioned harassment and disorderly conduct charges fall as petty disorderly persons offenses.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Disorderly Persons Offenses in New Jersey? 

The statute of limitations for filing a disorderly persons offense or a petty disorderly persons offense is one year from the time the offense took place. For example, if you were assaulted by someone, you have up to one year to file charges with the court. Failing to do so will result in the offense being barred from prosecution.

Are There Monetary Costs for Disorderly Persons Offenses Other Than Fines?

Just as with most convictions in court, even routine traffic violations, there are costs other than the specific fines for the offense. For a conviction of either of the two disorderly persons offenses, the judge will also impose mandatory penalties of $33 in court costs, $50 for the Victims of Crime Compensation Board, and $75 for the Safe Neighborhood Services Fund.

What Should You Do If You Are Arrested for a Disorderly Persons Offense?

The one thing you should not do if arrested is act rudely; it will not help you, but do not answer questions or volunteer information. Invoke your right to request an attorney immediately. Do not waive any of your rights, and make sure not to sign any documents. Remember that you have a right to an attorney and that asking for one does not count against you by making you look guilty.

Having a lawyer by your side could make all the difference if you are charged with any disorderly persons offense. As previously mentioned, most people when charged with a petty offense do not even realize the severity that may come with it.

You would not sit down at a blackjack table and place your money down without knowing the rules; entering a courtroom blind when you are facing a criminal record and jail time is even more ill-advised. You should, therefore, retain a lawyer immediately.

Are There Options to Lessen the Severity of Disorderly Persons Offenses?

First-time offenders can apply for the conditional dismissal program. Certain charges, such as a DUI or domestic violence, do not qualify. The defendant, if eligible, will plead guilty, receiving a probationary period for one year. The judge may dismiss the conviction once the defendant finishes the program. Remember that if you violate your probation or terms stated in the program, the judge will sentence you accordingly.

Pretrial intervention (PTI) programs offer defendants a way to avoid prosecution through early rehabilitative services. An example would be a substance abuse treatment program for a person charged with a drug charge. The Veterans Diversion Programs also provide the opportunity for a defendant to avoid prosecution. This is a program for the treatment of mental health issues.

For defendants who do not qualify for any of the aforementioned programs, avoiding a part of or all the assigned prison time is still possible through probation. The judge will set the terms of probation. Typical terms are community service, a halfway house, participation in training or educational programs, spending weekends or evenings in jail, and spending time in a halfway house.

Belmar Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law, P.C. Represent Those Charged with a Disorderly Persons Offense.  

If you or a loved one have been charged with any type of crime, petty or criminal, you need immediate representation. Our experienced Belmar criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law, P.C. will fight hard to make sure that you receive the best possible outcome. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients in Freehold, East Brunswick, Jersey City, Middletown, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, New Jersey, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.