What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony in New Jersey?

  • Criminal Defense

Felony and misdemeanor are two of the most common terms you’ll hear when it comes to discussing crime on a legal basis. Most people understand that they represent two separate degrees of criminality and that felonies are considered worse. But most people don’t know much about them behind this foundation.

We’re going to dive into the distinction and differences between felonies and misdemeanors here in New Jersey. But before we can do this, we’re going to first need to address the fact that New Jersey doesn’t have felonies. Well, they do but it’s complicated. Let’s get into it.

Why Aren’t There Felonies in New Jersey?

Saying that New Jersey does not have felonies or misdemeanors may sound a little strange but it is true. The legal system in our state does not use these familiar terms. Instead, New Jersey divides its crimes into “indictable” and “disorderly person” crimes.

  • An indictable offense would be considered a felony in any other state
  • A disorderly person crime is the equivalent of other states’ misdemeanors.

Just why does New Jersey use these unique words?

We’re not really sure. It’s one of those things that was decided sometime in the past and that has continued through to the present. But it doesn’t really matter or affect the legal process itself, as the only thing that is different really is the words we use to describe either a misdemeanor or a felony crime here in New Jersey.

The main thing that we can thank this uniqueness for is the extra layer of confusion it causes New Jerseyans. As such, we will continue to use the words felony and misdemeanor in our discussion. Just remember that indictable and disorderly person offenses are New Jersey’s equivalent of felonies and misdemeanors.

What Are New Jersey’s Felony Laws?

In New Jersey, felonies (indictable crimes) are divided into four different degrees. The first degree covers the very worst crimes that a person can commit. The least serious crimes people can commit aren’t fourth-degree crimes but are misdemeanors that we’ll speak about in a moment.

These indictable crimes most likely get the name from the fact that a grand jury must indict you to proceed with the case. This means that they will have to review the details of the case to determine if there is enough evidence for a criminal charge. If there is, then they’ll send you a written indictment.

The four degrees are:

  1. First-Degree Crimes: These are crimes like rape, manslaughter, and murder. Being found guilty of a first-degree crime means getting a prison sentence between ten years to a lifetime, as well as a fine of up to $200,000.
  2. Second-Degree: These are crimes like aggravated arson, sex crimes, kidnapping, white-collar crimes, or drug crimes. Being found guilty of a second-degree crime means getting a prison sentence between five to ten years, as well as a fine of up to $150,000.
  3. Third-Degree: These are crimes like arson, DUI, robbery, and possession of a controlled substance. Being found guilty of a third-degree crime means getting a prison sentence between three to five years, as well as a fine of up to $15,000.
  4. Fourth-Degree: These are crimes like some robberies, DUIs, and forgery. Being found guilty of a fourth-degree crime means getting a prison sentence of up to eighteen months, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

Crimes of this nature almost always result in some kind of prison sentence. Misdemeanor crimes are less likely to result in a prison sentence, but that does not mean they never do. But the biggest difference between felonies and misdemeanors in New Jersey, as with every state, is that felonies cover much more serious crimes and therefore they result in much more severe punishments and prison sentences longer than a year.

What Are New Jersey’s Misdemeanor Laws?

Misdemeanors in New Jersey (disorderly person crimes) actually come in two varieties, which represent different levels of severity much the same way that felonies are divided into various degrees. By their very nature, misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies and so the punishments they receive will reflect this.

Misdemeanors are broken up into:

  • Disorderly Person: These are the more serious of the misdemeanors and as such disorderly person crimes include assault, shoplifting, resisting arrest, and possession of less than fifty grams of marijuana. Punishments for being found guilty of a disorderly person crime could be up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Petty Disorderly Person: These are less serious crimes such as harassment and disorderly conduct. They are the absolute lowest degree of crime that can still result in some time spent behind bars. Being found guilty of a petty disorderly person crime can result in a maximum of a month in jail and a fine of $500.

Misdemeanors may still mean spending some time in jail, but generally speaking, it is much easier to move on with life following a misdemeanor compared to following a felony. Felonies will impact your future by making it harder to find a job, and potentially taking away your right to vote or own a firearm.

What Should I Do If I’m Facing Charges?

Even minor crimes can result in some serious punishments, so you should always take a charge seriously regardless of whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor. They can both impact your life in seriously negative ways.

The best way to protect yourself is to work with an experienced attorney like those at The Hernandez Law Firm P.C. Regardless of the severity of the charge you’re facing, we fight with everything we have to defend you. Reach out to us today for a free consultation. We’ll work with you to investigate the situation and the circumstances, build a solid defense, and argue on your behalf to the courtroom so that you have the best possible shot at walking out a free and innocent man.

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