If you're alleged to have committed or have been charged with a sex crime in New Jersey, it'll be one of the most daunting challenges of your life. As there is no specific profile for offenders, allegations, and charges can impact individuals from many different backgrounds, irrespective of age, education, profession, or financial standing. Yet, there exists one similarity between all cases. Defendants standing before a Mercer County judge or jury need professional representation to exercise their full right to a fair defense.
Proving your side of the matter in a case involving sexual criminal charges is a tough task, often intensified by emotional factors, such as relationships with community members, especially among friends and family. Unfortunately, even after acquittal, just the former charges or simple allegations alone are enough to tarnish one's reputation. If found guilty, however, the consequences are much greater. Extensive fines and periods of incarceration are common, as well as inclusion in New Jersey's online sex offender registry.
To build a solid and compelling defense, reach out to New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. He and his team understand the seriousness of sex crime charges, including individual nuances that arise in many cases. Our team assures you that you can exercise your right to due process to ensure your opportunity to beat allegations and charges is protected. Mercer County will act quickly to build a case against you, so act in the same and call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or go online now.
How Does New Jersey Rank Sex Crimes?
In New Jersey, sex crimes are ranked through five distinct levels of legal severity. The state's levels, also called degrees, include the following designations and the corresponding punishments:
- First-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 10 to 20 years and a maximum fine of up to $200,000
- Second-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 5 to 10 years and a maximum fine of up to $150,000
- Third-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 3 to 5 years and a maximum fine of up to $15,000
- Fourth-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 18 months and a maximum fine of up to $10,000
- Disorderly Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 6 months and a maximum fine of up to $1,000
In New Jersey, the handling of each case varies based on the unique details and facts involved. Those considered to be of a more severe and aggravated nature, such as rape and aggravated sexual assault, often fall under first-degree offenses. Conversely, those perceived as less grave, such as indecent exposure or lewdness, are generally categorized as a fourth-degree crime and a disorderly offense, respectively.
Understanding the Age of Consent
In the context of New Jersey law, sexual acts identified as assault or contact occur when the individual either refrains from granting permission for the sexual act or is not lawfully able to provide such consent. The following are categories of people who may be legally unable to give consent in New Jersey:
- Minors under 16
- Those suffering from physical or mental disabilities
- Unconscious individuals
- People under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Those under 18 when consent involves someone with parental, guardian, or supervisory authority over them.
There is one critical distinction for minors, however. Consent laws don't govern individuals aged between 13 and 16, as long as the sexual associate is not older by four or more years. For instance, a consensual sexual engagement between a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old would not be deemed illegal.
New Jersey Sex Crimes Statute of Limitations
A state's statute of limitations defines the specific period within which a sexual offense may be reported. This legal concept ensures timely legal action while also safeguarding the fair treatment of the accused. New Jersey's laws have been customized to permit varying durations depending on the unique circumstances.
In the realm of civil charges, especially those concerning financial redress, New Jersey's legal code under N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2 enables victims who claim sexual offenses as children to file a lawsuit within 37 years after attaining the age of majority, which is 18. In contrast, adult claimants are allotted a seven-year window, beginning from the moment they acknowledge a civil right to claim relating to a former sexual offense.
The approach toward criminal charges is distinct from the above. New Jersey has rescinded all time restrictions for actions concerning sexual assault, rape, or crimes driven by aggravated intent. Also, there is no statute of limitations for legal actions when the individual affected was a minor at the time of the offense.
While some might think that they can address sex crimes outside of the legal framework, it's vital to recognize that New Jersey's legislation actively discourages private attempts to resolve or handle such matters. The laws are designed to ensure that legal channels are followed and justice is pursued appropriately. For example, New Jersey's laws explicitly state that "any private, contractual arrangement intending to settle claims...shall be void and unenforceable."
Common Sex Offenses in New Jersey
A crucial element in comprehending sex crimes lies in recognizing the specific type of offense being alleged. For instance, the legal system will make distinctions between actions that include sexual penetration and those that consist of sexual contact. These differentiations could establish the variance between an offense classified as a third-degree crime and one that is considered a first-degree crime.
As stated in N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2, sexual penetration involves "vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse" resulting from inserting a finger, hand, or object. Sexual contact is committed when the accused intentionally touches the victim's "intimate parts" either directly or through clothing. Acts of sexual contact are committed to degrade or humiliate the victim or for sexual arousal or gratification.
The classification or severity of the offense is shaped by a multitude of elements, including the following:
- Ages of the parties involved.
- The connection between the accused and the victim.
- Details of the alleged act committed.
- Motivations on the part of the accused.
While there is a myriad of charges that defendants can face, there are a few more common than others. Below are a few examples:
- Aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)): A first-degree crime involving sexual penetration with someone under the age of 13, with someone between 13 and 16 if the defendant had a familial relationship with the complainant or disciplinary power over the complainant, with someone during the course of another crime, or using force that produced an injury or with threatened force using a weapon.
- Rape (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b)-(c)): A second-degree crime—also known as sexual assault—involving sexual penetration through the use of physical force or coercion—without physical harm—when the accuser is physically or mentally incapacitated or under the defendant's legal control or supervision.Aggravated criminal sexual contact (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3(b)): A third-degree crime involving sexual contact after coercion or force that leads to a physical injury to the accuser or with certain minors.
- Indecent exposure: (N.J.S.A 2C:14-4(b)): A fourth-degree crime involving exposing intimate parts for the purpose of sexual gratification when the defendant reasonably knows that they will be seen either by a child under 13, certain minors depending on the age of the defendant, or by someone with a mental incapacity that makes them unable to understand the sexual nature of the exposure.
- Lewdness (N.J.S.A 2C:14-4(a)): A disorderly offense—fourth-degree is involving a minor under the age of 13—involving any act in which the defendant reasonably expects is likely to be observed by "nonconsenting persons who would be affronted or alarmed."
Investigation and Trial Procedures
New Jersey's justice system uses an expedited method to adjudicate sex crimes. According to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, local authorities must relay all sex crime charges above the third degree to prosecutors within 24 hours, who will have full supervisory approval over the matter. But even for third and fourth-degree crimes, as well as disorderly offenses, expect law enforcement to begin investigating immediately.
If local authorities determine there is probable cause to believe a crime has occurred, an arrest may follow. The Mercer County prosecutor will then evaluate the evidence and decide on the specific charges. As pretrial proceedings commence, the accused will engage with the justice system in a few ways, including the following:
- Arraignment—formal reading of the criminal charges in the presence of the defendant.
- Bail setting—conditional release of a defendant with the promise to appear in court when required.
- Discovery—parties are exchanging information and evidence with each other.
- Plea Negotiations—agreements between the prosecution and defense for a plea agreement.
- Other pretrial motions from either party—the attempt to overturn various forms of evidence, dismissing charges, addressing additional legal matters.
An experienced defense attorney plays a critical role at this stage in protecting the accused's rights and developing a strategy. Should the judge—grand jury in some more serious offenses—send the case to a full trial, your professional representation becomes even more invaluable.
In a trial, both parties present an overview of their case through opening statements. The defense and the prosecution will present evidence, along with any witnesses, and will have the opportunity to cross-examine one another. Afterward, both sides will reiterate their case through closing arguments before deliberation and the verdict. If the charges are substantiated, a separate sentencing hearing is scheduled, during which the judge determines the appropriate punishment according to New Jersey's laws.
Sex Crime Mandatory Minimum Sentences
The severity with which a sexual offense is classified plays a vital role in the legal outcome. Recurring offenses can lead to dire ramifications for sentencing. Per N.J.S.A. 2C:14-6, individuals facing charges found guilty of a second sex crime are deemed habitual offenders. Even if it's a person's first criminal charge in New Jersey, an earlier conviction from another state will affect the current sentencing guidelines. Habitual offenders must serve a mandatory minimum sentence of five years—without parole—and the court lacks the authority to decrease or suspend the sentence.
Reductions for incarceration periods are possible, but under the provisions of New Jersey's "No Early Release Act," some individuals must serve at least 85 percent of their designated sentence before being eligible for release in some cases. Specifically, those found guilty of certain crimes, including those of an aggravated nature or involving minors, are subject to the guidelines found in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.
Sexual Offender Registry
Apart from fines and time behind bars, there is an often-overlooked consequence for those who are convicted of sex crimes. Those found guilty of particular offenses are required to register as sex offenders, but only those convicted of the crimes identified under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2.
The system differentiates offenders into three tiers, each based on the probability of re-offense. Each category affects how much personal information is made accessible to the public. Some examples of convictions that call for registration include the following:
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Criminal sexual contact against a minor.
- Endangering the welfare of a child through sexual contact, pornography, or prostitution.
- Luring, enticing, kidnapping, criminal restraint, and false imprisonment of a minor.
Even if individuals don't have to have their current address posted on the New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry, lower-tier classifications may have obligations to inform local law enforcement of their presence in specific regions. Therefore, before you enter the New Jersey justice system to fight allegations or charges regarding sex crimes, you need to seek out professional help.
How New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help You
Should you be the subject of allegations or charges relating to sexual offenses, the potential legal repercussions, damage to reputation, difficulties in obtaining employment, strained personal relationships, and the risk of losing professional certifications or licenses are imminent. Even if you feel certain about the accuracy of your own account, attempting to defend yourself single-handedly in court is not advisable.
With extensive experience in Mercer County and throughout New Jersey, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is ready to stand with you, offering a robust, well-planned defense that prioritizes your rights and overall welfare. Mercer County vigorously pursues sex crimes using comprehensive techniques to investigate, adjudicate, and penalize those accused. Having skilled and unswerving legal aid from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is crucial for safeguarding your reputation and liberty. Call 888-535-3686 or go online today.