Disorderly Persons Offenses comprise a significant percentage of the criminal cases pending every year in New Jersey. In fact, the Administrative Office of the Courts indicates that over 250,000 petty disorderly persons and disorderly persons charges were filed over the six months ending January 1, 2010. While that certainly is a significant number, most people have little idea what is involved when they are arrested or charged with this pedigree of violation.
The terms "disorderly persons offense" or "petty disorderly persons offense" largely arise out of the definition of classes of offenses found in the NJ Criminal Code. In this regard, N.J.S.A. 2C:1-4 indicates that every violation of the code is either a "crime" or a disorderly persons offense (including petty). When an individual is convicted of a "crime" he or she loses certain rights under the New Jersey Constitution, including the right to vote and sit on a jury.
When a particular violation constitutes a petty disorderly or disorderly persons offense as opposed to a "crime", it will indicate as such in the related law. An offense is a crime whenever it is referred to as a crime of the First Degree, Second Degree, Third Degree or Fourth Degree. These are also referred to as NJ Indictable Offenses. They are indictable charges because the law affords a right to presentation and indictment by a Grand Jury. There is no right to presentation of a disorderly person offense to a grand jury nor, for that matter, presentation of a case to a jury at all. The vast majority of disorderly persons offenses are therefore heard in Municipal Court, which has original jurisdiction over these types of cases. An attorney appointed by the municipality to act as its judge presides over and decides all cases in Municipal Court. Common types of disorderly persons charges are possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, shoplifting something with a value of less than $200, and harassment.
While a disorderly persons offense is not a "crime" under NJ law, a conviction results in a criminal record that is not eligible for expungement for five (5) years. This means that a conviction shall follow an individual around for a minimum of 5 years absent defense and/or a downgrade of the charge. Another collateral consequence of a NJ Disorderly Persons Offense is the potential penalties, including up to six (6) months in jail, fines, probation, and even drivers license suspension. If you require additional information or assistance regarding a disorderly persons offense, do not hesitate to contact our office at 1-877-450-8301 to speak to one of our attorneys without obligation.