Degree of Charges in Criminal Cases New Jersey

NJ Criminal Lawyers Defending Clients Charged with Crimes and Offenses

charged with a crime NJ top defense attorneys

A criminal offense in New Jersey is a serious charge that can have serious implications including jail time, probation, community service, and a permanent criminal charge on your record. Depending on the severity of your charge, your case may be handled in Superior Court (for felony or indictable charges) or Municipal Court (for misdemeanors or disorderly persons offenses). In addition, you may be eligible for first time offender programs such as the pre-trial intervention program (PTI), a conditional discharge, or a conditional dismissal depending on the charges and your record (if any). Finally, for repeat drug offenders, you may be eligible for Drug Court which helps people with drug problems to keep them out of jail and puts them in an intense probation situation with rehab.

Whatever your charges, the criminal defense lawyers at the Tormey Law Firm can help. Our experienced NJ criminal defense attorneys have literally handled thousands of cases in courts throughout the State including in Elizabeth, New Brunswick, Somerville, and Jersey City. Contact our offices anytime for a free initial consultation at 201-556-1570.

New Jersey Degree of Crimes Law 2c:43-1

The New Jersey statute that governs degrees of crimes is N.J.S.A. 2C:43-1. It provides, in pertinent part:

§ 2C:43-1. Degrees of crimes

a. Crimes defined by this code are classified, for the purpose of sentence, into four degrees, as follows:

(1) Crimes of the first degree;

(2) Crimes of the second degree;

(3) Crimes of the third degree; and

(4) Crimes of the fourth degree.

A crime is of the first, second, third or fourth degree when it is so designated by the code. An offense, declared to be a crime, without specification of degree, is of the fourth degree.

If your charge is not defined as a crime above, then it is usually a disorderly persons offense which is a misdemeanor type charge. First, second, third, and fourth degree crimes are all indictable (felony) level charges that must be handled in the Superior Court in the county in which you were charged. These types of charges must be presented to a grand jury for an indictment for the case to proceed.

Conversely, disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons cases will be handled in the local Municipal Court and will proceed by way of a summons or complaint. There is no indictment necessary on a disorderly persons charge.

What are the Penalties for Each Degree of Crime NJ? 

  • First Degree: This is the most serious crime we have in NJ such as murder, kidnapping, maintaining a drug manufacturing facility, etc. A first degree crime is punishable by ten to twenty years in New Jersey state prison. In addition, there is a presumption that you will be sentenced to prison if convicted of a first degree crime even if you have no prior record. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get into a first offender program like PTI on a first degree charge. Further, if your first degree charge is a violent offense under the No Early Release Act, you must serve 85% of your prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
  • Second Degree: A second degree crime in New Jersey is punishable by five to ten years in NJ state prison which a presumption of jail time even for first time offenders. Second degree charges can include robbery, gun chargessexual assault, drug offenses, and eluding police. In some cases, a diversion program like PTI may be possible on a second degree charge. In addition, if this is a violent offense under the No Early Release Act, you must serve 85% of your prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
  • Third Degree: A third degree crime in NJ is punishable by three to five years in prison if convicted. However, if you have no prior criminal history and you are convicted of a third degree offense it is presumed that you will be sentenced to probation and not prison. Third degree crimes can include eluding police, drug charges, shoplifting, aggravated assault, and endangering the welfare of a child.
  • Fourth Degree: A fourth degree crime is the lowest level indictable (felony) charge we have in NJ which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison if convicted. Like a third degree offense, there is a presumption of non-incarceration for first time offenders. Fourth degree charges can include marijuana offenses, shoplifting, driving while suspended for a DWI charge, lewdness, etc.
  • Disorderly persons offenses: Disorderly persons (misdemeanor) level charges in NJ are punishable by up to six months in the county jail and a $1,000 fine. Disorderly persons offenses include shoplifting, simple assault, possession of marijuana under 50 grams, possession of drug paraphernalia, etc. For first time offenders, you are eligible for the conditional discharge program on drug offenses and the conditional dismissal program on some other offenses (such as shoplifting).
  • Petty disorderly persons offenses: The lowest level criminal offense in NJ punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Some PDP offenses include disorderly conduct, harassment, and simple assault by mutual fighting. For first time offenders, you are eligible for the conditional discharge program on drug offenses and the conditional dismissal program on some other offenses.

Arrested for Criminal Charge NJ, what’s the degree of my crime?

For more information, contact our offices now for a free initial consultation at 201-556-1570.


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With unmatched knowledge and experience in the practice of law, the seasoned attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm are committed to serving their clients and tenaciously confronting the allegations against them.

We will examine every facet of your case in order to defend your constitutional rights and reputation. With a dedicated legal advocate to assist you, our attorneys will ensure that you are never forced to navigate the complex legal process on your own.

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Learn More About How to Fight Your Charges

If you've been charged with a criminal offense, disorderly persons offense, or traffic / DWI violation, you have the right to an attorney who will defend you against your charges and fight for your best interests. To learn more about how your attorney can fight to have your charges dismissed or reduced, click a link below to see our video library of legal defenses and strategies.

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