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People are often surprised to find themselves charged with a crime for a minor offense – they had no intention of committing a crime or didn’t even realize that what they were doing was illegal. And even though they are called “minor offenses,” they can still carry harsh consequences. A conviction for a minor offense can result in jail time and make it difficult to get a job or get into the college of your choosing.
New Jersey criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer understands that these offenses can cause a number of problems in your life. The prosecution wants to convict you of the charge, but she has the knowledge and experience you need to get a fair outcome. If you’ve been charged with a petty disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation and discuss how we can help you.
Minor Offenses Under New Jersey Law
Unlike most other states that classify crimes as felonies or misdemeanors, the terminology in New Jersey is different. Minor offenses are categorized as “disorderly persons” offenses and more serious crimes are referred to as “indictable offenses.” The key differences between these two categories of offenses are as follows:
- Indictable offenses require a grand jury indictment before you can be charged. In addition, they are punishable by at least one year in prison.
- Disorderly persons offenses do not require a grand jury indictment. The charges are filed in municipal court, and your case will be heard by a judge, not a jury. Also, disorderly persons offenses are punishable by up to six months in jail.
While not as serious as an indictable offense, a disorderly persons charge can still carry serious consequences.
Petty Disorderly Offenses in New Jersey
Petty disorderly offenses are the least serious criminal charge you can face in New Jersey. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it seriously, as the potential penalties can still cause serious problems in your life. If convicted, you face the following consequences:
- Up to 30 days in jail;
- A fine up to $500; and
- A criminal conviction on your permanent record.
Common petty disorderly offenses charges in New Jersey include disorderly conduct and harassment.
Disorderly Conduct in New Jersey
There are two basic crimes of disorderly conduct in New Jersey – improper behavior and offensive language.
Improper Behavior – New Jersey Code Section 2C:33-2(a)
You can be charged with improper behavior for the following conduct:
- Creating a dangerous situation for no legitimate purpose
- Engaging in behavior that is otherwise violent or disorderly
As you can see, improper behavior can cover a broad range of conduct – simply threatening to hurt someone can result in a disorderly conduct charge. Fighting is an obvious situation that could lead to a disorderly conduct charge, but here are some other situations you may not expect:
- Ignoring instructions from law enforcement
- Being present at a large party
Many improper behavior charges are the result of a single poor decision or the momentary loss of control. Unfortunately, you can still wind up facing charges that carry serious consequences.
Offensive Language – New Jersey Code Section 2C:33-2(b)
Under New Jersey law, you can be charged with offensive language if you use language in public that is intended to offend the hearer or you recklessly disregarded the probability of offending another person. For example, using racial epithets, profanity, or abusive language in public can lead to a charge for offensive language.
Of course, the language must be used in public, but be aware that “public” may be broader than you think. New Jersey law considers any place to be public where the public or a substantial group has access. The statute specifically includes the following places:
- Transport facilities (for example, bus or train stations)
- Apartment buildings
- Amusement parks and entertainment venues
Harassment – New Jersey Code Section 2C:33-4
You can be charged with harassment in New Jersey if you attempt to harass someone by:
- Attempting to annoy or alarm another person in any way, but specifically by making anonymous communications, or contacting them at extremely inconvenient hours, or communicating with them in offensive language.
- Subjecting another person to striking, kicking, shoving, or offensive touching, or threatening to do so.
- Engaging in any form of conduct with the intent to alarm or seriously annoy another person, including repetitive acts.
Despite the detail provided by the statute, the conduct prohibited is actually pretty broad. Harassment could include the following actions:
- Prank phone calls
- Sending angry emails or online messages
In addition, it’s not uncommon for people to face multiple harassment charges simultaneously, with a conviction for each carrying its own punishment.
As an aside, you can be charged with fourth-degree harassment if you were allegedly harassing someone while incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. Fourth-degree harassment is considered a disorderly persons offense but is subject to the same punishment as a low-level indictable offense.
Why You Need an Attorney
Many people think that since they are facing a charge for a minor offense, they don’t need an attorney. Just a few days in jail can cause hardship for you and your family. Even if you aren’t sentenced to jail, your conviction could cause a number of problems – it will likely appear in background searches, making it difficult to keep your job.
You should also be aware that the prosecution is not on your side, and they will take full advantage of your lack of legal expertise. Prosecutors can be very aggressive in pursuing a conviction, even for a minor offense, and may ask the judge to impose the harshest possible penalties. Before you know it, you could find yourself convicted of a crime you didn’t commit and subject to time in jail, a hefty fine, or both.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can level the playing field. They will require the prosecutor to actually prove your charges, which is not as simple as the prosecution would like you to think. In addition, they will ensure that you are treated fairly and given due process under the law.
Call New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney for Help with Your Petty Disorderly Persons Charge
At Wimmer Criminal Defense Law, we understand the value of skilled representation in every case, whether you’re facing very serious charges or charged with a petty disorderly persons offense. We can help you get the charges dismissed or otherwise negotiate a fair outcome. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us for a free consultation by calling 215-712-1212.