Unlike other states, New Jersey does not categorize criminal offenses as misdemeanors or felonies. Instead, under New Jersey statute, a criminal violation is deemed either a disorderly persons offense or an indictable offense.
Within the category of disorderly persons (DP) offenses, there’s a further breakdown between petty disorderly persons offenses and disorderly persons offenses. As a general rule, a disorderly persons offense is a lesser crime, involving a small amount of a controlled substance, the theft of something of relatively little value, a simple assault or harassment. All DP offenses are prosecuted in municipal court before a municipal court judge—there is no right to trial by jury in a disorderly persons prosecution, as a DP charge is technically not considered to be a crime—it’s deemed an “offense.” Nonetheless, to obtain a conviction, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In addition, if you are convicted of a disorderly persons offense, you will have a criminal record.
Even though a disorderly persons charge is not technically considered a crime, the penalties can be severe. You can be fined up to $1,000 and you can face up to six months in jail. Furthermore, if you are convicted of certain DP offenses, you may risk the loss of your right to drive (even if the infraction had nothing to do with driving).
Though conviction on a disorderly persons charge won’t have an impact on your right to vote or serve on a jury (you may lose those privileges if convicted of an indictable offense), there are other potential consequences:
- You may put a professional license in jeopardy, and may have job consequences, if your job requires a professional license
- You may encounter challenges in an immigration proceeding
- The conviction may have an impact, should you be convicted of a more serious crime in the future