“You're under arrest.”
This is one of the scariest sentences to hear, regardless of who you are, where you are, or what choices have led to this moment. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in Bergen County, NJ, you likely have a lot of questions about what's going to happen to you, both short- and long-term, and about what you can do to minimize the impact these three words will have on your well-being. So, take a deep breath to settle your nerves, then read on to arm yourself with valuable information.
Understanding How New Jersey Classifies Crimes
Many jurisdictions (and the media's depictions of crimes and legal proceedings) use the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” to differentiate between crimes that are more or less severe. New Jersey uses different terminology, though: “indictable offenses” are felony-level crimes, while more minor matters that would otherwise be called misdemeanors are called “disorderly persons offenses.” Let's take a quick look at which crimes fall under these two categories.
In New Jersey, all felony-level crimes require a grand jury indictment before they can proceed to a trial. That's why the term indictable offenses is used for crimes such as (but not limited to):
- Armed Robbery
- Rape or sexual assault
- Aggravated assault
- Drug Distribution
Disorderly persons offenses include matters such as, among others:
- Simple assault
- Disorderly conduct
- Shoplifting (under $200 worth of goods)
- Resisting arrest
Disorderly persons offenses, which are heard in Municipal Court, result in a maximum of $1000 in fines and six months in jail. Many such cases don't merit the maximum sentences, however, especially for first offenders and those who have excellent legal representation.
What To Expect After You've Been Arrested
In 2017, bail reform laws were enacted in New Jersey, and this means that essentially eliminated cash bail—means that you may be released from jail on your own recognizance. Naturally, this depends on the crime you've been accused of, any prior criminal record you may have, and the like. If you are released in this manner, you will be given a court date.
Additionally, there may be conditions placed upon your release. These could include:
- A nightly curfew that you must observe
- Restrictions on travel, especially out-of-state travel
- Being forbidden from consuming alcohol, if alcohol played a part in your crime
- Being required to report to local law enforcement on a regular schedule
- Maintaining (or seeking) gainful employment (or attending classes if you are a student)
- Being placed in another person's custody while awaiting trial
- Being subject to “house arrest,” which means you must stay at your designated address (except for going to work or keeping appointments related to your criminal case)
- Having your movements tracked by a monitoring system (such as an ankle monitor)
If your crime involved abuse or physical violence of an intimate partner or family member, you may also be subject to a restraining order forbidding you from contacting that person or attempting to send a message to them through a third party.
Judges in New Jersey still have the discretion to impose bail on a defendant, and they may do so, particularly if that person is charged with committing an especially serious offense, if they are a repeat offender, or if the judge believes them to be a flight risk. In still other circumstances, the judge may determine that releasing the defendant at all, whether with or without a bail requirement, poses too much risk to the public. When this occurs, the judge will order the defendant detained in jail.
The bail reform law passed in 2017 is called the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act; that second part applies to defendants who are kept behind bars pending their trial. Under this law, they must be indicted within 90 days of the arrest and tried within 180 days. The act also stipulates that within 48 hours of arrest, all arrestees must be released or a motion for detention must be filed.
A Criminal Conviction Can Negatively Affect Your Entire Future
If this is your first brush with the law, it's important that you understand what's at stake. Just being arrested can be traumatic, and spending even a day or two behind bars can be a harrowing experience. But the ramifications of a criminal conviction, of course, make an even bigger, more influential impact on your future.
Most people understand, at least hypothetically, that a conviction can result in very serious penalties. Sentences vary in degree, but generally include some combination of incarceration in a jail or prison, fines, community service, and probation. However, there are a number of other consequences that some folks fail to consider until they're in the hot seat. These include:
- Difficulty finding gainful employment after a conviction. You know that question on job applications asking if you've been convicted of a crime? From now on, you'll have to tick the “yes” box.
- Financial struggles. In addition to the hefty fines you'll pay, spending time in jail eliminates your ability to support your family, and your opportunities for employment will also be limited.
- Relationship issues. Plenty of people find that their spouse, parents, children, or friends aren't very forgiving when it comes to your crime. That's not to say that you're automatically facing a breakup or estrangement, but it's going to take some work on your part to get back in your loved ones' good graces.
- Problems finding housing. These days, landlords—not to mention mortgage loan officers—check potential tenants' backgrounds. A criminal conviction on your record could result in your application being automatically rejected.
There's also the stigma and the shame of being a convicted felon. Some people aren't bothered by that—or say they aren't. But many others carry the weight of their mistake for the remainder of their lives and never really recover from the emotional fallout.
Why It's Essential to Hire an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Bergen County
To say that you want to avoid the repercussions of being arrested, detained, tried, and found guilty of any crime sounds like a no-brainer. There is still hope, however, after those handcuffs have clicked shut. An experienced, skilled criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between being released on your own recognizance, getting out on bail, and being detained. Working with an attorney ups your chances of entering a pretrial diversion program or other deal to help you stay out of jail. And if you do go to court, of course, you'll need a legal representative by your side.
Esteemed attorney Joseph D. Lento can provide that help, and more. Having successfully served clients in Bergen County and around the state, he understands the court system inside and out and will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family. Call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 or tell us about your case here.