Sex crime charges are among the most severe and stigmatizing accusations an individual can face. The implications of a conviction extend far beyond legal penalties, potentially causing significant personal and professional damage. If you are a resident of Bergen County, NJ, and find yourself accused of a sexual offense, you need to be prepared to have your life disrupted in a big way. The law enforcement agencies in New Jersey are quick to react to any accusations of sex crimes, and the NJ Attorney General's Office has instructed local authorities to notify prosecutors of all sexual assault claims within 24 hours of receiving word.
Even if the charges are eventually dismissed, or you are found not guilty, the mere accusations can inflict long-lasting harm on your reputation due to the associated societal stigma. It can strain your relationships with friends, family, and community members, jeopardize your employment, and even influence your child custody rights. Worse still, if you are ultimately convicted, you could face hefty fines, prolonged imprisonment, and your name is listed on New Jersey's public online sex offender registry for life (even for certain "lesser" offenses).
The fallout from sex crime allegations can affect individuals of any age, occupation, educational background, or economic status. Despite the principle of presumed innocence until proven guilty, you may find yourself in a precarious situation in your bid to defend yourself. By the time you are charged, prosecutors in Bergen County have probably begun building a case against you. Your best shot at preserving your freedom and avoiding the long-term consequences is to engage a skilled New Jersey criminal defense lawyer to represent you. The Criminal Defense Team at Lento Law Firm has decades of experience successfully defending people in your position. We have a keen understanding of the New Jersey court system, and we can develop a strong defense while making sure your rights are protected, maximizing your chances for a favorable outcome. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation.
Sexual Offense Categories in New Jersey
In New Jersey, sex offenses and other crimes are grouped into five classifications based on the nature and severity of the crime. In order of decreasing severity, they are:
- First-Degree Offense: Punishable by 10 to 20 years imprisonment and a fine up to $200,000
- Second-Degree Offense: Punishable by 5 to 10 years imprisonment and a fine up to $150,000
- Third-Degree Offense: Punishable by 3 to 5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $15,000
- Fourth-Degree Offense: Punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000
- Disorderly Persons Offense: Punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine up to $1,000
These degrees are assigned to certain sex crimes based on their severity, with some flexibility based on circumstances. For example, aggravated sexual assault is typically categorized under first-degree sex crimes in New Jersey, while lesser offenses such as indecent behavior or lewdness are generally classified as fourth-degree crimes and disorderly persons offenses, respectively.
The legal repercussions of sex crimes in New Jersey fluctuate based on the nature and degree of the offense. For example, acts involving sexual penetration are treated differently from those involving sexual contact without penetration. New Jersey law defines sexual penetration as "vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, or anal intercourse" by the insertion of a finger, hand, or object. Criminal sexual contact, conversely, occurs when the accused intentionally touches the victim's "intimate parts," either directly or through clothing, often for the purpose of humiliation, degradation, sexual arousal, or gratification.
The degree of the offense is also influenced by various factors, such as the age of the parties involved, the specifics of the act, and the relationship between the alleged offender and the victim, among other considerations.
Understanding Consent in New Jersey
Crimes of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact are defined by whether or not consent occurs. When the alleged victim either refuses consent for the sexual act or is legally incapable of providing such consent, the act is a crime. Individuals with mental or physical disabilities, those who are unconscious, and people under the influence of drugs or alcohol are considered incapable of giving consent, as well as anyone under the age of 16. It's also a sex crime for anyone in a parental, guardian, or supervisory role over a minor aged 16-18 to engage in sexual activity with them, regardless of whether the minor gives consent.
New Jersey law provides an exception regarding minors and consent: for individuals aged between 13 and 16, consensual sexual contact is not illegal as long as the sex partner is no more than four years older. For instance, a consensual sexual relationship between a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old would not be deemed illegal.
Examples of Sex Crimes in New Jersey
New Jersey categorizes many actions as sexual offenses. The following are some of the more prevalent examples, although this list is not exhaustive.
Sexual Assault (Commonly Known as Rape)
Sexual assault, classified as a second-degree crime, involves forced or coerced nonconsensual sexual penetration that does not result in physical injury. It also encompasses instances where the victim is underage, mentally or physically incapacitated, or under the defendant's legal authority or supervision.
Aggravated Sexual Assault
Aggravated sexual assault mirrors sexual assault but includes one or more additional exacerbating circumstances. These might include cases where the assault occurs during the perpetration of another crime, the victim is physically or mentally incapacitated, or the act involves force that results in injury or the threat of force with a weapon.
Criminal Sexual Contact/Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact
These acts, categorized as fourth and third-degree crimes, respectively, meet the criteria for sexual assault but involve undesired sexual contact (touching "intimate parts") without penetration.
This fourth-degree offense involves exposing one's private parts for sexual pleasure when the defendant reasonably expects to be seen by a child under 13, other minors relative to the age of the defendant, or an individual with a mental disability that prevents them from understanding the sexual nature of the act.
A disorderly persons offense, lewdness occurs when the defendant reasonably expects their sexual conduct to be observed by "nonconsenting persons who would be offended or alarmed." When committed against victims younger than 13 or minors, if the alleged perpetrator is at least four years older, lewdness is elevated to indecent exposure.
Time Limits for Prosecuting Sex Crimes in Bergen County (Statutes of Limitations)
Sexual offenses in New Jersey can result in criminal charges, civil charges, or both. The statute of limitations sets the time period within which a sexual offense can be prosecuted or, in the case of civil actions, the deadline for initiating a lawsuit. This law encourages prompt legal action while also ensuring fair treatment of the defendant. New Jersey has adapted its statutes of limitations to accommodate a range of circumstances.
For civil cases seeking financial compensation, New Jersey's statute of limitations allows victims alleging childhood sexual offenses until 37 years after their 18th birthday to file a claim. Adult plaintiffs have seven years from the moment they acknowledge that a previous sex offense against them has inflicted harm.
In New Jersey, there is essentially no statute of limitations for sexual assault and aggravated sex crimes; the state has eliminated all time restrictions. Moreover, there is no time limit for legal action when the victim was a minor at the time of the offense. Therefore, the prosecution can file charges regardless of the time elapsed since the alleged incident. For lesser sex offenses (e.g., lewdness, criminal sexual contact), the statute of limitations varies from one year for disorderly persons offenses to five years for indictable (felony) offenses.
Is It Possible to Privately Settle Accusations of Sexual Misconduct?
In certain cases, a perpetrator of a sexual offense might attempt to settle "privately" with their accuser in the hope of averting criminal charges. However, New Jersey law makes this approach ineffective. By law, any private settlement involving the commission of a crime (including sex crimes) is deemed null and unenforceable. So even if the alleged victim signs an agreement, it doesn't preclude them from pressing charges later, nor does it prevent prosecution for sex crimes.
Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Sexual Crimes
While certain sex offenses come with lesser penalties than others, New Jersey law stipulates that repeat sexual offenders may face mandatory minimum sentencing, irrespective of the nature of the offense. In the eyes of the law, even a second offense signifies persistent unlawful behavior. Furthermore, if you have a prior conviction for a sex crime in another state, New Jersey still counts that as a prior even if it's your first offense in New Jersey.
Repeat sexual offenders are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole eligibility during this period, and the court does not have the discretion to modify this pre-established sentence by reducing or suspending it. Some situations may be eligible for a shortened prison term under New Jersey's "No Early Release Act," however, these individuals must still serve at least 85% of their sentence before being considered for parole.
Sex Offender Registration
In New Jersey, certain sex crimes require you to register as a sex offender, even for "less severe" sexual offenses, and even if the judge imposes probation or alternative rehabilitation instead of imprisonment. If you are convicted of one of these offenses, regardless of your actual sentence, you must register as a sex offender in the state for life.
Under New Jersey law, sexual crimes necessitating registration include:
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Criminal sexual contact involving a minor
- Endangering the welfare of a child through sexual contact, pornography, or prostitution
- Luring, enticing, kidnapping, criminal restraint, and/or false imprisonment of a minor
The system classifies registered individuals into three tiers based on their estimated risk of reoffending. Each tier determines the extent of information accessible to the public. Higher-tier offenses require more details to be shown on the registry, including the offender's address. Lower-tier offenses exclude this information but still mandate the offender to notify local law enforcement of their presence in certain areas and to update their address whenever they move, whether within Bergen County or beyond. Regardless of the tier or severity, if your conviction qualifies you for sex offender registration, your details will remain on the registry for life--even if you were convicted of a minor offense and even if you never commit another crime.
Defending Against Sex Crime Accusations in Bergen County
When you're facing a sex crime accusation in Bergen County, New Jersey, the stakes for your life couldn't be higher. The consequences are not only severe but can also be long-lasting. Legal repercussions? You could face them. Damage to your reputation? It's almost inevitable. Struggles in securing employment and strained personal relationships? These are common fallout. And let's not forget the potential revocation of professional licenses or certifications--a blow to your career that could be irreparable. With so much at stake, the last thing you want to do is take chances by hiring an inexperienced attorney to represent you--or worse, try to represent yourself. Without competent legal representation, your likelihood of conviction and severe sentencing significantly increases.
Your best hope of avoiding the worst outcomes and preserving your reputation and freedom is with the help of a proficient, experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney. The Criminal Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm has a proven record of successfully defending against sex crime charges in Bergen County and across New Jersey. We are prepared to stand by your side, offering a robust, strategically planned defense that prioritizes your rights and well-being.
Your choice of attorney can significantly influence the outcome of your case. Don't gamble with your future. Reach out to the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team at 888-535-3686 or contact us via our online form today.