What is an ‘indictable offense’ in New Jersey?

Criminal offenses take many names depending upon the jurisdiction. From felony to petty crimes, each offense listed in a state’s penal code carries a certain maximum – and, in some cases, minimum – penalties, including fines, jail time, restitution or probation.

In New Jersey, the legislature essentially did away with the term “felony offense,” replacing it with the unique title of “indictable offense.” In a landmark state case known as State v. Doyle, the court created an equitable tie between the two terms, likening one to the other. However, as it stands today, a serious crime is known as an indictable offense. 

The term “indictable” refers to the right, duty and obligation of the state to conduct a grand jury investigation of the allegations prior to charging the suspect with the crime. A grand jury is a group of people tasked with hearing preliminary evidence of alleged criminal activity for the purposes of determining if enough evidence has been uncovered to make the arrest. In other words, the grand jury must determine if enough probable cause exists to charge the suspect with the crime(s) the state believes he or she committed. If the grand jury so decides, an “indictment” is issued and law enforcement is cloaked with the authority to apprehend the suspect.

Indictable offenses in New Jersey as classified into four categories, ranging from first to fourth degree. First degree indictable offenses are the most serious, with many carrying a possible life sentence. First degree offenses include murder, manslaughter, large-scale drug distribution, aggravated sexual assault, and rape. Second degree offenses include many sex crimes, smaller-scale drug crimes, arson, burglary, robbery, certain white collar offenses and kidnapping. These offenses, though somewhat less serious, can still carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ incarceration and a $150,000 fine.

Third degree indictable offenses include possession of controlled substances, DUI, burglary and robbery without aggravating circumstances, thefts and assaults. These crimes carry a maximum penalty of 5 years’ incarceration and/or a fine up to $15,000. Lastly, fourth degree indictable offenses – which do not carry a presumption of incarceration – include offenses like stalking, forgery, robbery or DUI, and can result in a maximum prison sentence of 18 months and a $10,000 fine.

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