New Jersey Criminal Law: New Jersey's criminal law system differs from that of other states in several ways. Though the process by which you are arrested, tried, and either punished or exonerated, and the rights you have during the process, is markedly similar, the designation of crimes in New Jersey varies substantially. Whereas in many other states, individuals are charged with either felonies or misdemeanor offenses, New Jersey classifies crimes as either disorderly persons or indictable offenses. If You Are Arrested:
Generally, disorderly persons offenses are punishable in the following ways:
- Fines amounting to a maximum of $10,000
- Incarceration for a period of up to six months*
Indictable offenses, depending on the circumstances and severity of the crimes, are classified under four degrees. Most crimes can be charged under multiple degrees, and the most serious may be charged as first degree crimes. The degrees are divided based on the severity of the punishments associated with each, and generally convictions of crimes within the same degree will result in similar punishments. They are generally as follows:
- First-degree crimes: Incarceration for a period of at least 10 years, and fines of up to $200,000
- Second-degree crimes: Incarceration for a period of up to 10 years, and fines of up to $150,000
- Third-degree crimes: Incarceration for a period of up to 5 years, and fines of up to $15,000
- Fourth-degree crimes: Incarceration for up to 18 months, and fines of up to $10,000*
*Sentences may vary substantially from these approximations, but generally correlate to these patterns.
When the police or other legal authorities place individuals under arrest, they are required to follow several procedures. Among these, they must Mirandize the individual, or inform them "that he or she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court; the person must be clearly informed that he or she has the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if he or she is indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent him or her."
Thus, if law enforcement officials decline to offer a Miranda warning to an individual in their custody, they may interrogate that person and act upon the knowledge gained, but may not use that person's statements to incriminate him or her in a criminal trial.
Anyone charged with a crime should refuse to give any statements to law enforcement or other persons and demand an attorney, invoking their rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the United States Constitution as well as under Article I, Paragraphs 8-14 of the New Jersey State Constitution. The police must immediately cease all questioning and allow the defendant to contact a criminal defense lawyer. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court must appoint him a public defender, but this may not occur until the first court appearance.
The defendant should refrain from talking to anyone about the case. This includes discussing the case over the phone or through other media, and it also includes other inmates. Law enforcement will often plant agents as inmates in order to elicit information and confessions from future defendants. If the offense occurs in conjunction with a child custody dispute, a defendant needs to tell their attorney immediately.
Fifth Amendment (United States Constitution):
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Sixth Amendment (United States Constitution): In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence (sic).Article I, Paragraphs 8-14 (New Jersey State Constitution):
8. No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense, unless on the presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases of impeachment, or in cases now prosecuted without indictment, or arising in the army or navy or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger.
9. The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate; but the Legislature may authorize the trial of civil causes by a jury of six persons. The Legislature may provide that in any civil cause a verdict may be rendered by not less than five-sixths of the jury. The Legislature may authorize the trial of the issue of mental incompetency without a jury.
10. In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel in his defense.
11. No person shall, after acquittal, be tried for the same offense. All persons shall, before conviction, be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses when the proof is evident or presumption great.
12. Excessive bail shall not be required, excessive fines shall not be imposed, and cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted. It shall not be cruel and unusual punishment to impose the death penalty on a person convicted of purposely or knowingly causing death or purposely or knowingly causing serious bodily injury resulting in death who committed the homicidal act by his own conduct or who as an accomplice procured the commission of the offense by payment or promise of payment of anything of pecuniary value.
13. No person shall be imprisoned for debt in any action, or on any judgment founded upon contract, unless in cases of fraud; nor shall any person be imprisoned for a militia fine in time of peace.
14. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in case of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
The Criminal Trial Process:
Unlike civil law, where suits occur between two private parties, the field of criminal law in New Jersey involves the government charging person(s) with violations of criminal statutes. In a civil case, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, but needs only to establish a preponderance of the evidence. The quantum of evidence that constitutes a preponderance cannot be reduced to a simple formula. A preponderance of evidence has been described as just enough evidence to make it more likely than not that the fact the claimant seeks to prove is true. It is difficult to translate this definition and apply it to evidence in a case, but the definition serves as a helpful guide to judges and juries in determining whether a claimant has carried his or her burden of proof.
Conversely, in a criminal case, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution, and the prosecution must demonstrate the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a presumption of innocence for all defendants. This elevated standard denotes the key distinction between criminal and civil cases. The standard that must be met by the prosecution's evidence in a criminal prosecution is that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
If the jurors or judge have no doubt as to the defendant's guilt, or if their only doubts are unreasonable doubts, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the defendant should be pronounced guilty. If reasonable doubt does exist, than the defendant ought to be exonerated. One cannot be "found innocent" in an American criminal case; they may either be pronounced "guilty" or "not guilty," and if they are exonerated they may not be "re-charged" for the same crime in the future (this would constitute "double jeopardy", see the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution).
In New Jersey, a misdemeanor charge is tried before a local municipal judge, who acts as the trier of fact in the case and requires the same evidentiary standards as juries. A grand jury must determine whether or not there is enough evidence to charge an individual with an indictable offense. Once this occurs, trial will take place at the superior court level, at the county courthouse for the district in which the offense was supposedly committed. Defendants may select either a jury of 12 county citizens or a superior court judge as the trier of fact. The former is almost always selected.
At some point before the conclusion of the trial, it may be in the defendant's interest to accept a plea bargain. Here, the defendant agrees to enter a guilty plea before the court in exchange for a reduced sentence. The attractiveness of this option will depend largely on the ability of your attorney to negotiate on your behalf. At this point, the trial commences. Obviously, this is a complicated process. You will need an experienced attorney to guide you through it as you fight to defend your rights and your future.
Anthony Macri offers expert legal representation in the following areas:
If you have been charged with any of the above criminal offenses, your future hangs in the balance. Do not allow the State to railroad you through the justice system. Whether you seek full exoneration or a favorable plea bargain, do not hesitate to contact an experienced, aggressive legal representative, and there is no more passionate a criminal defense attorney than Anthony Macri. He offers the expert legal aptitude that you will need to defend your rights and protect your future. He has accumulated over 30 years of legal experience and over 20 years as an independent attorney, which allows him to connect with each client that he takes on at a personal level unmatched by his colleagues. America's legal system is built on the pillars of justice and fairness, and yet thousands of individuals receive unjust and unfair punishments from this same system, which can be as cold and unfeeling as it is moral. The outcome of your case will be determined by the quality of your legal representation, and to ensure that you are not railroaded by the justice system, you need an experienced and capable attorney. Anthony Macri embodies this, as he will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome on your behalf (Anthony Macri on Trying Cases). Call today at 973-538-6200.