While being charged with a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey isn’t as serious as being charged with an indictable offense, disorderly persons offenses still carry steep penalties. If convicted of a petty disorderly persons offense, you can face up to 30 days in jail, while a conviction for a “standard” disorderly persons offense can land you in jail for up to six months. Convictions can lead to fines and other penalties as well, and having a conviction on your permanent record can impact many aspects of your life.
As a result, if you have been charged with a disorderly persons offense, you need to hire a New Jersey criminal defense attorney to defend you by all means available. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this could involve raising New Jersey’s statute of limitations for disorderly persons offenses.
New Jersey’s Statute of Limitations for Disorderly Persons Offenses
A statute of limitations is a law that places an outer limit on how long prosecutors have to file charges. Most (but not all) crimes are subject to statutes of limitations in New Jersey, with the “limitations period” being different for different types of offenses.
New Jersey’s statute of limitations for disorderly persons offenses appears in Section 2C:1-6.b(2) of the Code of Criminal Justice. This section of the law states:
“A prosecution for a disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense must be commenced within one year after it is committed.”
In other words, New Jersey’s statute of limitations for disorderly persons offenses (including petty disorderly persons offenses) is one year from the date of the offense. If prosecutors do not file charges within a year, then you are no longer subject to prosecution, and you are entitled to have your charges dismissed if prosecutors move ahead even though the limitations period has expired.
Or, at least this is the general rule.
As is the case with many of New Jersey’s criminal laws, there are some exceptions. Specifically, Sections 2C:1-6.e. and f. of the Code of Criminal Justice provide that the statute of limitations does not run during any period that:
- A defendant is “fleeing from justice” or
- The state is pursuing prosecution for the conduct at issue.
The first of these is fairly obvious: If you are running or hiding from the police in an effort to avoid prosecution, any time that you are fleeing from justice does not count against the time that prosecutors have to pursue charges. But the second might not be quite as clear.
The second exception applies once you are already facing charges for a disorderly persons offense. While you are facing charges, the statute of limitations does not continue to run. In the event of a mistrial, this allows the prosecution to try your case again even if it has been more than a year since you allegedly committed the offense.
Using the Statute of Limitations as a Defense to a Disorderly Persons Offense in New Jersey
Let’s say you are facing charges for a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. Let’s also say that it has been more than a year since you allegedly committed the offense in question. If the statute of limitations has expired, how do you use the statute in your defense?
To use the statute of limitations in your defense, you will need to raise the issue in court. To do this effectively, you will need an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney on your side. When assessing whether you can assert the statute of limitations, your attorney will focus on two key questions:
- When was the offense “committed?” The statute of limitations starts to run when a crime is “committed.” This occurs “either when every element occurs or, if a legislative purpose to prohibit a continuing course of conduct plainly appears, at the time when the course of conduct or the defendant's complicity therein is terminated.” While many disorderly persons offenses are one-time events that are isolated in time, it isn’t always clear when the statute of limitations starts to run.
- When did the government “commence” prosecution? The statute of limitations establishes the deadline for the government to “commence” prosecution. This is not the date that your trial begins. Rather, the statute of limitations for disorderly persons offenses provides that prosecution commences when “a warrant or other process is issued, provided that such warrant or process is executed without unreasonable delay.” In other words, if you got a ticket when you got arrested, the statute of limitations generally won’t serve as a defense.
To be clear, the statute of limitations serves as a complete defense regardless of whether you committed a disorderly persons offense. In other words, you do not need to also argue the merits of the government’s case in order to avoid a conviction. If the statute of limitations has expired, you are entitled to a dismissal—period.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should start talking about your case. You need to make sure you obtain a dismissal first, and you also need to make sure that prosecutors can’t pursue charges for any indictable crimes. Indictable crimes have a statute of limitations of at least five years, and if you start bragging about how you “got away with it,” prosecutors may look for another way to convict you.
Of course, even if the statute of limitations for your disorderly person’s offense hasn’t expired, you may still have a variety of other defenses available. There are several ways to fight criminal charges in New Jersey, and an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to thoroughly evaluate your case to determine what defenses he or she can use to protect you.
Discuss Your Case with a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney in Confidence
If you have been charged with a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. To discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney in confidence, call 877-435-6371 or request an appointment online today.