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Third & Fourth Degree Crimes

Facing Third or Fourth Degree Felony Offenses in New Jersey?

Third and fourth degree felony offenses are the less serious types of crimes in New Jersey. They differ from the other categories of crimes in one very important way—a person found guilty of these lower level indictable offenses is presumed NOT to serve a prison sentence. This means that probation and several diversionary programs may be available to persons accused of these offenses, and that is always preferable to incarceration.

  • Typically fourth degree crimes are punishable by up to 18 months in state prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
  • As a general matter, third degree crimes are punishable by up to 3-5 years in state prison and up to a $15,000 fine.

Pre-Trial Intervention

There are some situations that permit a person accused of a third or fourth degree crime to avoid a felony conviction without having to win at trial. A diversionary program called Pre-Trial Intervention (“PTI”) provides an option for qualified first-time offenders (or people with extremely limited offense histories) to eventually obtain a dismissal of the currently pending felony charges. An application to the program must be approved by 1) the program director in the Criminal Case Management part of the court and 2) the prosecutor.

If a person is accepted to the program, the judge will sign an order of postponement at a hearing. At the hearing, the program will be explained to the defendant, but importantly, no guilty plea is entered. PTI can be ordered for 12-36 months, and during that time, the offender is required to meet the conditions set by the judge in order to complete it successfully. The standard conditions include reporting to a probation officer as directed and not obtaining any new charges in any jurisdiction, and monetary penalties. There may also be additional conditions deemed appropriate for particular types of cases by the judge: for example, in a theft case, restitution may be a condition of PTI, and in a drug case, submitting to random drug testing may be a condition of PTI. Completing the conditions imposed as quickly as possible is in a participant's interest because PTI can be shortened to as little as 6 months on the recommendation of the probation officer.

Not complying with the conditions of PTI leads to the probation officer seeking to terminate the offender from the program. In the event of PTI termination, a person is once again facing the originally charged crime and cannot receive PTI again in the future.

What does it mean to be on Probation in New Jersey?

Even if a person isn’t eligible for PTI, there are still possible outcomes that avoid or significantly limit incarceration. Probation is an opportunity to serve your sentence in the community—or so many a New Jersey judge is fond of saying. Probation supervision can last for anywhere from 1 to 5 years, and while it is not exactly an easy program to complete, it certainly can be done if taken seriously. The conditions a person must meet to complete probation are essentially the same as those required by a person in PTI, but at the end of probation, the defendant does have a felony conviction. Nearly all third and fourth degree crimes can eventually be expunged if probation is completed successfully, so it is absolutely in a person’s interest to comply with the conditions and be discharged from the program without violation.

Facing an indictable charge that will not necessarily send you to prison is still a very serious matter. Even if you are sentenced to probation only, felony convictions of any degree appear on background checks and can interrupt plans for employment, college admission, military service and professional licenses. It is imperative to get an experienced criminal defense attorney on your team as soon as you find yourself in legal trouble. Avoiding a felony conviction by way of dismissal is a best case scenario, but a lawyer who is an expert in criminal defense will be able to explain all of your options and will ensure that you understand the possible consequences of your choices. If a trial is in your best interest, you should have confidence that the person representing you is an accomplished and skillful trial attorney and not just someone who resolves cases by way of guilty plea. Forrester Law Firm is prepared to advise and defend on all degrees of crime. If you are facing third or fourth degree crime charges in New Jersey, contact us today for a free consultation.

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