If you've been charged with a sex crime in New Brunswick, New Jersey, it's important that you take the situation very seriously. The potential penalties for sex crimes in New Jersey can be severe and, in many cases, don't end when you complete your sentence; you may be required to register publicly as a sex offender for the rest of your life. This is why if you are facing a sex crime charge, you need the help of one of the experienced criminal defense attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. Our attorneys know New Jersey's criminal laws and court procedures and can help you defend your rights. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation.
One of the most difficult aspects of sex crime allegations is the deep emotions that they can trigger in all of the parties involved. Of course, if you're accused of a sex crime, it's understandable if you feel worried about the situation and concerned for your future. But emotions also run high on the side of the victim, their family, and even prosecutors and the public at large. The result is that the shadow of being charged can often follow you around even if you're ultimately exonerated. Even being accused – in situations where prosecutors don't elect to bring charges – can make the news and can result in your name being associated with the allegations in Internet posts and in peoples' minds for a long time to come.
On top of this, judges in New Brunswick may often refuse bail for defendants accused of serious sex crimes. You could end up spending months in the Middlesex County jail waiting for your case to be resolved or taken to trial. This is why you need to retain one of the experienced criminal defense attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. Our attorneys will fight for your reputation and your rights and will help you make sure you receive the strongest defense possible to the charges brought against you.
How Does New Jersey Rank Sex Crimes?
There are five levels of sex crimes in New Jersey, which, unlike many other states, does not use the terms “felony” or “misdemeanor” when describing criminal behavior. Instead, it uses the following terms:
- First-Degree Offense. A first-degree offense is the highest level of crime in New Jersey, and depending on the crime and the facts of the case, it can result in a fine of up to $200,000 and a prison term of 10 to 20 years. In some cases, for certain crimes, the prison sentence can be longer, including a life term.
- Second-Degree Offense. A conviction of a second-degree offense can mean a fine of up to $150,000 and a prison sentence of between 5 and 10 years.
- Third-Degree Offense. Third-degree convictions can carry a prison term of between 3 and 5 years and a fine of up to $15,000.
- Fourth-Degree Offense. Being convicted of a fourth-degree offense can land you in jail for up to 18 months and liable for a fine of up to $10,000.
- Disorderly Offense. This is the lowest level of offense, but can still cost you up to $1000 in fines and up to 6 months in jail.
Where sex crimes are concerned, the level of the offense you may be charged with depends heavily on the situation. For example, if the victim of the alleged sex crime is under the age of 13, or if violence is claimed to have been used in connection with a sexual assault, you may be charged with aggravated sexual assault, which is a first-degree offense. If, on the other hand, the allegation is that you exposed yourself in a “lewd and offensive way” to the public, that may result in a disorderly persons offense. It's important to understand that what you're charged with doesn't always match up to the allegations that were made against you; the prosecutors will typically charge based on what they feel they can prove in court.
Understanding the Age of Consent
Whether or not a victim has consented to sexual contact is often one of the central issues in a sex crimes case. It's thus important to have an understanding of what consent means in New Jersey, particularly when it comes to the age, mental state, or physical condition of the alleged victim. New Jersey has a number of different consent laws that are designed to address a wide range of situations. Here's a summary:
- Children under 13 years of age are legally not able to consent to any sexual contact.
- From age 13 through 15, a child is legally not able to consent to sexual contact with an adult, but may be able to consent to sexual contact with a child who is up to 3 years older.
- While the statutory age of consent in New Jersey is 16, a child aged 16 or 17 cannot consent to sexual contact with a blood relative, parent, or guardian, or with someone who has authority over them such as a teacher.
- In addition, a student aged 18 to 21 who is still in high school cannot consent to sexual contact with a teacher or school employee.
- No matter what the age, someone who is “intellectually or mentally incapacitated” or who is “physically helpless or incapacitated” isn't able to consent. This comes into play in many cases where the victim is alleging they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent that they were not able to consent to the alleged sexual contact.
Each situation, of course, is different. That's why you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you've been accused of a sex crime in any type of situation, including one where there is a question about whether the alleged victim consented to the contact. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the legal and factual challenges that these kinds of allegations bring and can help you understand the charges and protect your rights.
New Jersey Sex Crime Statute of Limitations
You have probably heard about the statute of limitations. It's a law that prevents someone from being prosecuted for a crime after a certain number of years have passed since the criminal act happened. The statute of limitations is different depending on the type of crime, and in some cases – including certain sex crimes in New Jersey – there is no statute of limitations. Aggravated sexual assault, for example, has no statute of limitations.
There are also statutes of limitation that apply to civil cases where someone is suing someone else, as in a contract dispute or a personal injury case. New Jersey has a special civil statute of limitations for lawsuits relating to sex crimes. When a victim was under 18 at the time of the sex crime, they have up to 37 years to sue the alleged perpetrator. If they were an adult when the incident occurred, they have seven years to sue. While it's, of course, important for victims of sexual assaults to be able to recover damages when they've been injured physically or mentally, when cases are brought decades after the alleged attack took place, they can be very difficult to resolve. In addition, in some cases where a victim brings a civil lawsuit, prosecutors may be prompted to bring a criminal case if the criminal statute of limitations permits.
Types of Sex Offenses in New Jersey
There are a number of sex offenses defined in New Jersey law. In some cases, the difference between one type of crime and another is whether the crime involved “sexual penetration” or it involved “sexual contact.” These are specifically-defined terms in New Jersey, and – along with other defined terms – are what prosecutors in New Brunswick use when they are deciding whether and how to charge someone for an alleged sex crime.
Other things that influence the charge that prosecutors may bring in sex crime cases are:
- The age of the victim
- Their mental capabilities, or their mental state at the time of the alleged attack
- Whether the victim was physically injured in the course of the alleged attack
- Whether the attack took place while the alleged perpetrator – or people with the perpetrator – were committing another crime, particularly a violent type of crime such as “robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, homicide, aggravated assault”
In New Jersey, there are typically a number of different types of acts that can be used by prosecutors to justify charging a defendant with a specific type of sex crime. There are two types of sexual assault charges:
- Aggravated Sexual Assault. A charge for this very serious, first-degree offense may be made where the victim is under 13 and there was allegedly “an act of sexual penetration.” Or, the defendant might be charged with aggravated sexual assault if the victim is 13 to 15 years old and the defendant is related to the victim. Other facts that can support this level of charge is where the victim was sexually assaulted during the course of a violent crime committed by the defendant or persons who were with the defendant or where the defendant used a weapon during the assault.
- Sexual Assault. This is a second-degree offense in New Jersey. A defendant may be charged with sexual assault if they have “sexual contact” but not “sexual penetration” with a victim who is under 13. This charge can also be made when there is “sexual penetration” after the defendant coerced the victim or where the victim did not give their “affirmative and freely-given permission” for the sex act in question. Sexual assault can also be charged where the defendant was in a position of supervision over the victim, such as in a hospital or prison setting, or in a number of different cases where the defendant has a family connection with the victim.
There are also two types of Criminal Sexual Contact charges:
- Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact. This third-degree offense requires “an act of sexual contact” (not “sexual penetration”), and other facts that are similar to the ones listed above that can result in a charge of aggravated sexual assault.
- Criminal Sexual Contact. This is a fourth-degree crime. It also requires there to be “sexual contact” but not “sexual penetration.” The other facts are similar to ones listed above that support a charge of sexual assault against a defendant.
There are two types of Lewdness charges:
- Fourth Degree Lewdness. This, as its name suggests, is a fourth-degree offense. It can be charged in situations where the defendant allegedly exposed their “intimate parts” for their own gratification or for someone else's, and where the defendant knew or could reasonably expect that they'd be seen by a child under the age of 13, or by someone unable to “understand the sexual nature” of the defendant's conduct.
- Disorderly Person's Lewdness. A disorderly person's offense, this can be charged where the defendant allegedly commits some “flagrantly lewd or offense act” that would cause someone observing it to be “affronted and alarmed.”
Investigation and Trial Procedures
Victims in sexual assault cases in New Jersey have certain rights when it comes to being notified of the status of the investigation and any decision made by prosecutors to charge – or not to charge – for an alleged sexual assault crime, as well as during the course of any plea negotiations that may take place.
In addition, New Jersey requires police departments to notify their local prosecutors within 24 hours of when someone has made a sexual assault allegation. One purpose of this is to allow police and prosecutors to work together on investigations, which can result in stronger cases that can be more difficult to defend against.
When charges are brought, the court process is similar to what happens in most other cases. Typical steps include:
- Arraignment. This and other parts of the case will take place at the New Brunswick County Courthouse. The arraignment is where the charges against you are read out loud to you (though, in many cases, this is waived because you or your attorney will have them in writing). You'll have an opportunity to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” The court will determine whether you're to be released on bail and, if so, what the bail amount will be. If you're not granted bail or can't make the bail amount, you'll spend the time before trial in the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center.
- Discovery. This happens early on in the proceedings but can continue throughout. The prosecution is required to provide a variety of information about the case to the defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help make sure that the prosecution meets this requirement, which in many cases can mean receiving information that can help your case.
- Meet and Confer. The prosecutor is required to reach out to the defendant or defense attorney to discuss the case and any possible way to resolve it, including by agreeing to a plea. Any plea offer must be in writing and will be turned over as part of the discovery information provided to the defense.
- Pretrial Hearings and Conferences. The purpose of most pretrial hearings is to deal with legal issues that can resolve parts of the case, for example, a motion to dismiss one or more charges because the government lacks the evidence to support the claims made against you. A pretrial conference is usually more of a “housekeeping” session, designed to work out more minor issues and deal with scheduling.
- Trial. As you might expect, this will include opening and closing arguments by both sides. The prosecution will go first after opening arguments and will present their evidence, including witnesses, against you. Your attorney will be able to cross-examine the government's witnesses and, where appropriate, argue against introducing other evidence. You'll have a chance to present your own witnesses and evidence in defense. If the case is tried by a jury, after closing arguments, the jury will receive instructions from the judge about how they're to decide the case.
- Sentencing. If the verdict is not in your favor, you'll be sentenced. But this typically happens sometime after the end of the trial and will be based on what the statutes require, as well as other information supplied to the judge by the government and by your attorney.
Defending yourself against any criminal charge can be extremely difficult. Defending yourself against a sex crime charge can be even more so. An experienced criminal defense attorney can make an enormous difference in how your case turns out, which is why when the stakes are this high, you should contact the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team for help.
Sex Crime Mandatory Minimum Sentences
For some sex crimes, New Jersey has put in place mandatory minimum sentences that require the judge to sentence you to a certain amount of time, no matter whether you're convicted after a trial or whether you plead guilty before. If you're a repeat sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual contact offender, for example, you will be required to serve at least 5 years before you're eligible for parole. And for other serious cases, you may be required to serve at least 85% of your sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
Sex Offender Registry
Once out of prison, your ordeal isn't necessarily over. New Jersey may require you to register as a sex offender, and your name, address, photo, and details of your conviction (whether because of a trial verdict or because of a plea deal) will be made available to the public through the New Jersey sex offender registry.
How New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help You
As you can see, a sex crime charge can be devastating. In addition to facing years or decades in prison, you may be publicly labeled as a sex offender for the rest of your life. This is why it's vitally important to reach out to the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. We are experienced criminal defense attorneys who understand the laws in New Jersey, who know the prosecutors and the court in New Brunswick, and who will defend your rights throughout this entire difficult process. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our contact form to set up a confidential consultation. We can help you defend yourself, and we are here to listen and to help!