What is a “petty crime” in New Jersey, and what are its consequences?

In Mercer County NJ, “petty” refers to a class of minor disorderly persons charges.

There is a common misconception in New Jersey about “petty crime.”  According to New Jersey law, disorderly persons charges, petty or otherwise, are known as “offenses,” and more serious, indictable offenses are known as “crimes.”

What is a “petty crime” in New Jersey, and what are its consequences?There is also a common misconception that a disorderly person charge is no big deal doesn’t hurt anyone, and won’t affect your long-term legal standing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These types of what are commonly known as misdemeanors can cause great harm to a community and its people, and as such, judges are often harsh when convicting offenders of misdemeanor crimes in order to discourage them from breaking the law again. The disorderly persons offenses that makeup misdemeanors often include harassment and other psychologically abusive behaviors, and prosecutors and judges both tend not to stand for that type of behavior in their communities. Read on to learn what types of misdemeanors make up “petty crimes,” and why it is important to seek the support of a criminal defense lawyer, one who has experience in the municipal court system and knows how the prosecution builds their cases against offenders, to combat your charge.

How are charges categorized in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, criminal offenses are not categorized as misdemeanors and felonies. Instead, they are put into the categories of indictable crimes, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses. Both categories of disorderly persons offenses make up what in other states is referred to as misdemeanor offenses, and indictable crimes are generally called felonies. In New Jersey, both classes of misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of one year in jail. They are handled at the municipal court level.

According to New Jersey Statutes 2C:1-4, which governs the classes of offenses in the state, notes that both disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly offenses do not constitute crimes, as laid out by the New Jersey State Constitution. As such, they can not be indicted by a grand jury or tried by a jury, and conviction of the offense cannot be used to place them at any legal disadvantage.

Examples of disorderly persons offenses include the following:

  • Harassment – continuing and unwarranted communication with another person
  • Creating a dangerous condition in public – this could include a wide variety of actions
  • Simple assault – causing minimal bodily harm or threatening bodily harm to another person
  • How are charges categorized in New Jersey?Public intoxication – being over the legal alcohol limit or being under the influence of a regulated substance in public
  • Lewdness – exposing genitals for the purpose of sexual or personal gratification
  • Resisting arrest – failure to quietly follow the orders of an arresting police officer
  • Shoplifting – taking something from the premises of a store without payment
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia – possession of equipment typically used with drugs, including bongs, rolling papers, and pipes
  • Possession of fewer than 50 grams of marijuana
  • Vandalism – property damage totaling fewer than $500

Other disorderly persons offenses exist; this is a list of among the most commonly prosecuted offenses. Depending on the severity of the offense and the type, allegations of having committed one or more of the above offenses could result in a petty disorderly persons charge or a disorderly persons charge, which carry differing consequences.

Potential consequences, and why to have a criminal defense lawyer

There are a number of potential consequences for petty crimes. Someone charged with a disorderly persons charge can face up to six months in jail, while a petty disorderly charge carries a potential jail sentence of 30 days. Fines for a disorderly persons charge can be up to $1,000, while a petty disorderly persons charge carries a potential fine of $500. Additionally, someone charged with a disorderly persons charge, petty or otherwise, faces court costs, restitution, and potential community service. They will also have a criminal record that will not be expunged for 3 years.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can get a disorderly persons to charge lessened in severity to petty or dismissed altogether. The main path by which a charge is dismissed is the proof that there was any reasonable doubt that a crime occurred. This is because a prosecutor holds the burden of proof for proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charge.

Contact an Experienced Trenton Criminal Defense Attorney to protect your rights

At Kamensky Cohen & Riechelson, our criminal defense attorneys are experienced in supporting our clients across  Trenton office, Princeton, Lawrence, Hamilton, New Brunswick, and across Mercer County with all manner of disorderly persons charges.

To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced member of our firm today regarding your case, please call us at (609) 528-2596 or go online to schedule a free, no-risk consultation with a personal injury lawyer.