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How to Determine the Penalties at Stake in Your New Jersey Criminal Case

June 29, 2022 | Posted In Criminal Law

If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, it is important to understand the penalties that are at stake in your case. But, this isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do; and, to make sure you are making informed decisions, it is best to discuss the specifics of your case with a New Jersey criminal lawyer.

With that said, there are some basic principles that apply, and understanding these basic principles can help you get the most out of your initial consultation with your lawyer. This article provides a general introduction to what you need to know.

Types of Penalties in New Jersey Criminal Cases

The first thing you need to know is that there are several different types of penalties at stake in criminal cases. Depending on the charge (or charges) against you, a conviction could lead to one or more of the following:  

  • Fines – These are monetary penalties that you must pay to the court. If you cannot pay your full fines immediately, you will have to pay them off over time.
  • Incarceration – Incarceration is a very real risk in New Jersey criminal cases. All crimes carry the possibility of jail or prison time under New Jersey law.
  • Probation – You may be able to avoid incarceration through probation. When you are on probation, you will be subject to several restrictions and requirements; and, if you violate any of the terms of your probation, you could be sent to jail immediately.
  • Community Service – Judges in New Jersey can order defendants to perform community service instead of (or in addition to) serving a period of probation or incarceration.
  • Additional Penalties – Depending on the nature of your case, you could also face loss of your driver’s license, mandatory counseling, sex offender registration and various other penalties.  

5 Key Questions for Determining the Penalties at Stake in Your Criminal Case

When you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey, there are five key questions that will determine the penalties at stake in your case. These are:

1. Is Your Case State or Federal?

In this article, we are focusing primarily on the penalties that state judges can impose under New Jersey law. If you are being charged with a federal crime, you will need to speak with a New Jersey criminal lawyer to find out what penalties are on the table.

2. Are You Being Charged with a Disorderly Persons Offense or Indictable Crime (in State Court)?

Under New Jersey law, all crimes fall into one of two main categories. A crime is either a “disorderly persons offense” or an “indictable crime.” Disorderly persons offenses are lower-level offenses, while indictable crimes are serious offenses that can carry years or decades behind bars.

3. What Degree of Charge are You Facing?

Once you know whether you are being charged with a disorderly persons offense or an indictable crime, you next need to figure out what degree of charge you are facing. In New Jersey, there are two degrees of disorderly persons offenses and four degrees of indictable crimes:

  • Disorderly Persons Offense Degrees – Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses and Disorderly Persons Offenses
  • Indictable Crime Degrees – First, Second, Third and Fourth Degree Indictable Crimes

Many crimes can be charged at different degrees depending on the specific allegations involved. For example, simple assault can be prosecuted as a petty disorderly persons offense or a disorderly persons offense, and aggravated assault can range from a fourth-degree to a second-degree indictable crime. As discussed below, the penalties at these different levels vary significantly.

4. Do Any Mitigating or Aggravating Factors Apply?

New Jersey law recognizes several mitigating and aggravating factors that can either decrease or increase the risks of facing criminal prosecution. The factors that apply depend on the nature of the offense. For example, in assault cases, mitigating factors can include (but are not limited to):

  • “The defendant's conduct neither caused nor threatened serious harm;
  • The defendant did not contemplate that his conduct would cause or threaten serious harm;
  • The defendant acted under a strong provocation; or,
  • There were substantial grounds tending to excuse or justify the defendant's conduct, though failing to establish a defense.”

Some examples of possible aggravating factors can include:

  • “The risk that the defendant will commit another offense;
  • There is a substantial likelihood that the defendant is involved in organized criminal activity;
  • The extent of the defendant's prior criminal record and the seriousness of the offenses of which he has been convicted; or
  • The defendant committed the offense pursuant to an agreement that he either pay or be paid for the commission of the offense and the pecuniary incentive was beyond that inherent in the offense itself.”

5. Are You Being Charged as a Repeat Offender?

If you are being charged as a repeat offender (or a “habitual offender”), this can also increase the penalties that are on the table. The sentencing impact of a criminal record depends on factors including the seriousness of your prior offense (or offenses) and how recently you received your prior conviction (or convictions).

Penalty Ranges for Disorderly Persons Offenses and Indictable Crimes

Taking all of these factors into account, we can finally take a look at the penalty ranges for disorderly persons offenses and indictable crimes in New Jersey. Depending on the facts of your case, the penalties that are at stake in your case will include:

  • Petty Disorderly Persons Offenses – Up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine
  • Disorderly Persons Offenses – Up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine
  • Fourth-Degree Indictable Offenses – Up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine
  • Third-Degree Indictable Offenses – Three to five years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine
  • Second-Degree Indictable Offenses – Five to 10 years in prison and up to a $150,000 fine
  • First-Degree Indictable Offenses – 10 to 20 years in prison and up to a $200,000 fine in most cases (the most-severe crimes can carry between 20 years and life behind bars)

Discuss Your Defense Strategy with a New Jersey Criminal Lawyer

If you find all of this confusing, you are not alone. As we said above, understanding the penalties that are on the table in a New Jersey criminal case isn’t easy. To discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey criminal lawyer in confidence, call us at 877-435-6371 or request a free consultation online today.


Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.

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