New Jersey Classifications of Crimes

Indictable Offenses vs. Disorderly Persons Offenses vs. Ordinances

Our law office often retains clients who, upon receiving a summons, are unsure of the magnitude or seriousness of their offense. If you are unsure of the difference between an ordinance, a disorderly persons offense, and an indictable offense, hopefully this will clear things up for you.

The following is a brief explanation of a municipal ordinance under New Jersey law as well as a distinction between municipal ordinance and the more severe disorderly persons offense and petty disorderly persons offense.

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C: 1-4, New Jersey recognizes three classes of offenses. These are indictable offenses, disorderly persons offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses. Indictable offenses are analogous to common law felonies while non-indictable offenses are analogous to misdemeanors.

Indictable offenses can be of the first, second, third, or fourth degree. Fourth degree indictable offenses can expose a defendant to up to eighteen months incarceration while indictable offenses of the third, second, and first degree may result in years to a lifetime of incarceration. These offenses also entitle defendants to trials by jury. Conversely, disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses are those that expose a defendant to up to six months incarceration. Furthermore, these offenses do not entitle defendants to trials by jury.

N.J.S.A. 40:49-5 Penalties for Violating Ordinances, provides, in pertinent part; “The governing body may prescribe penalties for the violation of ordinances it may have authority to pass, by one or more of the following: imprisonment in the county jail…for any term not exceeding 90 days; or by a fine not exceeding $2,000; or by a period of community service not exceeding 90 days…”

In a nutshell, a town or municipal ordinance is the least serious criminal offense. However, violations of municipal ordinances may result in incarceration but are usually only accompanied by a fine. They should not result in a criminal record. Recently, we had a client who was involved in a fight near Rutgers University in Middlesex County. Fights can often lead to simple assault or disorderly conduct charges. However, we were able to avoid New Brunswick Assault charges and the crime was reduced to a mere noise ordinance and resulted in a fine.

An example of a disorderly persons offense is possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana. Recently, we handled a case in Woodbridge in which a police officer illegally searched the automobile of driver and found about 2 grams of the drug. Due to the illegal nature of his search the case was dismissed. As a result, our client lucked out and avoided a Woodbridge NJ marijuana charge which is punishable by up to six month incarceration, hefty fines, and community service.

A common example of a petty disorderly persons offense involves disorderly conduct which arises out of improper behavior and offensive language. Disorderly Conduct in Piscataway and New Brunswick is very common due to the close proximity of Rutgers University.

Finally, indictable offenses, otherwise known as felonies, are the most serious classification of crime. Indictable offenses include possession of heroinpossession with intent to distribute marijuanaburglary, and aggravated assault.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.