If you’ve ever heard of someone getting sentenced for a disorderly persons offense, or if you’ve been charged with one yourself, you may be seeking more information about what this commonly misunderstood category actually means. It is less serious than an ‘indictable crime’, or New Jersey’s term for what would be known as a felony offense in other states. Similar to misdemeanors, disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses (even lower severity) can only be punished by up to a year in jail, which is still serious in of itself.
The language we use in New Jersey to discuss the levels of crimes is part of the reason that these offenses are regularly misunderstood. Disorderly persons offenses cover a lot more ground than someone getting in a bar brawl or acting indecently in public, which is what the word ‘disorder’ might make you think of. These charges can also include harassment, minor drug charges, assault, and certain types of theft. Here’s a bit more of what you need to know about disorderly conduct and it’s legal ramifications.
If you’re pretty petty: The least serious crime you can be charged with in New Jersey, a petty disorderly person offense can cover both disorderly conduct and harassment. It can only be punished with a maximum of a month in jail, and fines not to exceed $500.
More disorderly deeds: This is slightly more serious than its petty counterpart, a regular disorderly person offense includes such activity as assault, shoplifting, obstruction of justice, resisting arrest, and having less than 50 grams of marijuana in your possession. It carries the possibility of six months of jail time, and up to a thousand dollars in associated fines.
Running out of time: One of the good points for someone who has committed a disorderly persons offense is that it usually carries a statute of limitations of one year. This means that if you’ve committed the crime more than a year ago and charges haven’t been filed against you, they will no longer be able to be after that year-long window. Criminal prosecution has to start within a certain period of time, and the state can’t just hold onto a long-ago charge indefinitely.
The severity is real: Although having a disorderly persons offense may be the lowest possible criminal charge, it is still a real criminal conviction and can become part of your permanent record. This means that you’ll be eligible for harsher sentencing if you’re convicted later of a different crime, and it can also make it harder for you when you’re looking to buy a house, achieve a professional license, and especially when applying for a job. You can be barred from receiving federal financial aid if you’re convicted of possessing an illegal substance, and domestic violence charges can carry additionally severe consequences.
Your best option: It’s increasingly important to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney on all cases of petty and regular disorderly persons offenses. Contact me, David C. Barry, Attorney at Law, for a free phone consultation about your case and how to best move forward. I can be reached by phone at 732-238-8686.