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Crime and Punishment: How New Jersey Defines the Seriousness of Crimes and their Penalties

Until 1979, New Jersey used the old system of case-based common law that the United States inherited from England.  Crimes were defined through case law over centuries, and became part of the law.  In 1979, New Jersey abolished the common law crimes and went about systematically defining what will constitute a crime in New Jersey, how crimes will be classified, and how they will be punished.

New Jersey considers two types of violations of law:

  • Crimes
  • Disorderly Person Offenses

The state’s statutory system considers an offense a crime if the state authorizes imprisonment for more than six months for the violation.  In order to create predictability in sentencing, crimes are further divided into four categories by their severity, and each category has guidelines for sentencing.  From least to most serious, the categories are as follows:

  1. Fourth Degree
    Fourth degree crimes are the most lenient, and carry a maximum incarceration of 18 months and a maximum fine of $10,000.  Typical fourth degree crimes are assault, shoplifting and small drug offenses.

  3. Third Degree

    A crime of the third degree carries a prison term of three to five years and a maximum fine of $15,000.  Certain theft and property damage crimes, as well as many drug possession crimes, are examples of third degree crimes.


  4. Second Degree

    If you are convicted of a crime in the second degree, you face a fine of up to $150,000 and imprisonment for a term of between five and ten years.  Manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, small-scale drug distribution and some types of sexual assault are considered second-degree crimes.


  5. First Degree

    A first-degree crime is the most serious, including first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery.  It can carry a prison term of between 10 and 20 years, and a fine of up to $200,000.

New Jersey law gives a judge leeway to determine:

  • Whether the sentence can be suspended
  • Whether to require the defendant to pay restitution
  • When parole eligibility will begin
  • A host of other issues

The court must detail in writing its reasons for the imposition of the sentence.

Whatever criminal charges you face, it is worthwhile to get legal assistance to protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome. All of the attorneys at our offices are here for you.

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