How Are Criminal Charges Graded?

Understanding The Terms Used To Charge Crimes

Once you familiarize yourself with the terms used in NJ to describe different crimes, you will appreciate how serious certain criminal charges are.

The Most Serious Criminal Matters Are Heard 
At The Superior Court Level

Other States
New Jersey
Degree
Presumption of Incarceration
Exposure
Felony
Indictable Offense
First
Yes
10 + years
Felony
Indictable Offense
Second
Yes
5 + years
Felony
Indictable Offense
Third
No
Up to 3 years
Felony
Indictable Offense
Fourth
No
Up to 18 months
 
We do not use the term “Felony” to designate the most serious type of crime that is committed in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, the term for FELONY is “INDICTABLE OFFENSE”.

Once a Grand Jury returns an INDICTMENT on the crime you are ACCUSED of committing, you are now facing an “INDICTABLE OFFENSE”. 

Make sense?

Indictable Offenses are GRADED in the following manner:
First Degree, Second Degree, Third Degree, and Fourth Degree.
As you can see from the chart, we ONLY have FOUR categories or DEGREES of crimes in New Jersey.

First and Second Degree Indictable Offenses have a “Presumption of Incarceration”.

Very simply, this means that if you are found guilty or PLEAD guilty to either a First or Second Degree crime, you must go to prison. The sentencing judge does NOT have discretion and incarceration is mandatory.

For Third and Fourth degree crimes, there (generally) is NOT Presumption of Incarceration. 

This means that the sentencing judge MAY have discretion and incarceration may not be mandatory. 

Of course, we say that a judge MAY have discretion because whether or not a defendant is sentenced to prison depends on many factors.
For example, does the defendant have other criminal convictions on his record?
What type of crime is he/she found guilty of? Drug possession and distribution? Home invasion?

ALL Other Criminal And Traffic Matters
Are Heard At The Municipal Court Level

New Jerseey
Exposure
Fines
Disorderly Persons Offense
Up to 6 months in jail
Up to $1,000.00 fine, court costs, loss of license, and community service
Petty Disorderly Persons Offense
Up to 30 days in jail
Up to $500.00 fine, court costs, loss of license, and community service
Ordinance
Depends
Depends
Traffic/DUI
Depends on Many Factors
Loss of License
Community Service
Depends on Many Factors
Loss of License
Community Service
 
The majority of other states use the term “Misdemeanor” to designate Minor criminal offenses.

In New Jersey, we use the terms “Disorderly Persons Offenses and Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses” to designate minor criminal offenses.

New Jersey Municipal courts are the most heavily trafficked courts in New Jersey.
The state of New Jersey is home to over 560 municipalities.

Each municipality has its own Municipal Court. Hundreds of thousands of cases are resolved at the Municipal Court level in New Jersey each year.

For a Free Guide on how to navigate Municipal Court in New Jersey, click here.

A common misconception is that an Ordinance conviction, whether by trial or guilty plea will NOT appear on a person’s record.

For a clarification of this issue, please read this.

Another common misconception is that a DUI conviction in New Jersey is a felony. While 46 other states in the country have “felonized” DUIs, New Jersey still treats DUI convictions as Title 39 – traffic offenses. Although a DUI conviction or guilty plea will expose a defendant to jail time, it does NOT appear on a criminal background check.

Disorderly Persons Offenses and Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses WILL appear on a criminal background check.If a defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty to one of these offenses, he/she must wait five years and all fines must be paid before the conviction can be expunged.

Important Concepts To Consider 
New Jersey’s No Early Release Act (NERA)

In New Jersey, convictions for certain crimes results in a sentence imposed pursuant to the No Early Release Act (“NERA”). N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.

NERA Requires That The Guilty Party Serve 85% Of Their Prison Term Before Becoming Eligible For Parole.

The Offenses Listed Below Are Charged In Every Superior Court In The State Of New Jersey.

A court sentencing an individual after being found guilty (or pleads guilty) to one of the following First or Second degree crimes is subject to the No Early Release Act:

Murder N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3
Aggravated Manslaughter N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4
Vehicular Homicide: 2C:11-5
2nd Degree Aggravated Assault N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)
Disarming a Law Enforcement Officer N.J.S.A. 2C:12-11(b)
Kidnapping N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1
Aggravated Sexual Assault N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2
Sexual Assault N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b) and N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(c)(1)
Robbery N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1
Carjacking N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2
Aggravated Arson N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1(a)(1)
Burglary N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2
Extortion N.J.S.A. 2C:20-5(a)
Booby traps in manufacturing or distribution facilities N.J.S.A. 2C:35-4.1
Strict Liability for Drug Induced Deaths N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9


The New Jersey Graves Act – N.J.S.A. 2C: 43-6

Anytime a gun comes into the picture, The Graves Act is triggered (No Pun Intended).

Very simply, the Graves Act stands for the proposition that if a defendant pleads guilty OR is found guilty of a crime involving a gun, then the court MUST impose mandatory prison sentences and parole ineligibility. A person may have a stellar academic record and a completely clean criminal record, but it does not matter. There are no exceptions.

We have successfully represented clients facing serious mandatory prison time with both NERA & Graves Act sentencing enhancements.

These cases are extremely complicated and sensitive given the nature of the underlying crime and the State imposed mandatory minimums.

There are many factors that are to be considered in formulating a strategy when representing clients charged with these crimes.

Please schedule an appointment with us today so that we can explain how to go about obtaining a “Graves Act Waiver” and even pursuing a Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) diverson to avoid prison altogether.

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