Few things can be more fear-inducing and demoralizing than to be accused or charged with a sex crime. Even if charges are dismissed, dropped, or a defendant is cleared, the mere accusations can leave a lasting stain on one's reputation practically overnight. The impact of these types of allegations can affect individuals of any age, educational background, profession, or financial status. and despite being legally considered innocent until proven guilty, you may face an uphill battle when it comes to defending yourself.
Challenging sexual offense charges is a daunting task, often made more complex by emotional factors such as relationships with friends, family, and community members. Notwithstanding the damage the allegations could do to your reputation if you are ultimately convicted, the consequences are even more severe, including hefty financial penalties, lengthy imprisonment, and inclusion in New Jersey's publicly accessible online sex offender registry.
If you're accused of a sex crime in Somerset County, New Jersey, your best hope of protecting your freedom and avoiding long-term repercussions is with the help of effective legal representation. By the time charges are filed, Somerset County prosecutors have likely already begun building their case against you, and you need an attorney with experience to meet the challenge. The Lento Law Firm's Criminal Defense Team has extensive experience with cases like yours. We know what's at stake for you, and we know how to fight for your due process rights while preparing a robust defense against the charges. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form to schedule your consultation.
How Are Sex Crimes Categorized in New Jersey?
Sex crimes fall into one of five categories or classifications in New Jersey, depending on the type of crime and the severity of the offense:
- First-Degree Offense: Maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years and a maximum fine of up to $200,000
- Second-Degree Offense: Maximum sentence of 5 to 10 years and a maximum fine of up to $150,000
- Third-Degree Offense: Maximum sentence of 3 to 5 years and a maximum fine of up to $15,000
- Fourth-Degree Offense: Maximum sentence of 18 months and a maximum fine of up to $10,000
- Disorderly Persons Offense: Maximum sentence of 6 months and a maximum fine of up to $1,000
Each case is unique and treated individually based on its specific facts. Aggravated sexual assault, for example, often falls under first-degree sex crimes in New Jersey, while lesser offenses like indecent behavior or lewdness are usually classified as fourth-degree crimes and disorderly persons offenses, respectively. But regardless of the severity of the charges, bear in mind that New Jersey acts quickly when responding to sex crime allegations. In fact, the NJ Attorney General's Office has issued a mandate requiring local law enforcement to report all sexual assault allegations to prosecutors within 24 hours.
Understanding Consent Laws
Sex crimes that fall into the category of sexual assault or criminal sexual contact occur when the alleged victim either refuses consent for the sexual act or is legally incapable of providing such consent. By law, those with mental or physical disabilities, unconscious individuals, and persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol are considered legally incapable of giving consent--as well as any individual under the age of 16 in New Jersey. Furthermore, it's a crime for anyone in a position of parental, guardian, or supervisory authority over a minor under 18 to engage in sexual activity with them; in such cases, consent is irrelevant.
There is an essential exception in the law when it comes to minors and consent. New Jersey does not consider it a crime to engage in sexual contact with individuals aged between 13 and 16, provided the sexual partner is not more than four years older. For instance, a consensual sexual relationship between a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old would not be considered illegal. (This is in contrast to other states where it would still be considered statutory rape.)
Degree and Severity of Sex Crimes in New Jersey
The legal implications of sex crimes in New Jersey will depend on the nature and degree of the crime. For instance, acts involving sexual penetration are treated differently from those involving sexual contact. The distinction can significantly impact the degree of the crime, ranging from first to third degree.
New Jersey law defines sexual penetration as "vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, or anal intercourse" caused by the insertion of a finger, hand, or object. On the other hand, criminal sexual contact occurs when the accused intentionally touches the victim's "intimate parts" either directly or through clothing. These acts are often committed to humiliate, degrade, sexually arouse, or gratify the perpetrator.
The degree of the offense is also determined 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 things.
Types of Sex Offenses in New Jersey
New Jersey law identifies numerous behaviors as sex offenses. Some of the more common examples include but are not limited to the following.
Sexual Assault (Rape)
This second-degree crime involves nonconsensual sexual penetration through physical force or coercion without causing physical harm. It also applies when the victim is a minor, physically or mentally incapacitated, or under the defendant's legal control or supervision.
Aggravated Sexual Assault
Aggravated sexual assault meets the definition of sexual assault above except that the act involves one or more additional factors--such as the assault occurred during the course of another crime, the victim was physically or mentally incapacitated, or the act involved force that resulted in injury or threatened force with a weapon.
Criminal Sexual Contact/Aggravated Criminal Sexual Contact
A fourth-degree and third-degree crime, respectively, these acts of criminal sexual contact meet similar criteria as sexual assault but instead involve unwanted sexual contact (touching "intimate parts") without penetration.
This fourth-degree crime involves exposing intimate parts for sexual gratification when the defendant reasonably knows that they will be seen by a child under 13, certain minors depending on the age of the defendant, or someone with a mental incapacity that prevents them from understanding the sexual nature of the act.
Lewdness is a disorderly offense in which the defendant reasonably expects is likely to be observed by "nonconsenting persons who would be affronted or alarmed." When committed against victims below the age of 13 or minors, if the alleged perpetrator is four years older, lewdness becomes indecent exposure.
New Jersey's Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes
Sex offenses can be subject to both criminal and civil charges in New Jersey. The statute of limitations defines the window of time during which a sexual offense can be prosecuted (or, in the case of civil actions, the time frame in which someone can file suit). The law encourages timely legal action but also ensures fair treatment of the defendant. New Jersey has customized its statutes of limitations to permit extended periods for different scenarios.
For civil charges resulting in financial compensation, New Jersey's statute of limitations allows victims alleging childhood sexual offenses up to 37 years after turning 18 to file a claim. Adult plaintiffs have seven years from the moment they identify a civil claim related to a previous sexual offense.
New Jersey has abolished time limits for actions against sexual assault, rape, and aggravated crimes. Additionally, no time limit exists for legal action when the victim was a minor at the time of the offense. Therefore, prosecution can occur regardless of the time elapsed since the incident. For lesser sex offenses (e.g., lewdness, criminal sexual contact) the statute of limitations ranges between one year for disorderly persons offenses to five years for indictable (felony) offenses.
Can I Resolve Sex Crime Allegations Privately?
While some believe they can handle sex crime incidents without involving the legal system, New Jersey law makes it ineffective to do so. In its statute of limitations laws regarding sex crimes, the law clearly states, "any private, contractual arrangement intending to settle claims...shall be void and unenforceable."
Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Sex Crimes
The classification of a sexual offense significantly influences the length and severity of the sentence, but repeat offenders may be subject to mandatory minimum sentencing under New Jersey law. If an individual is charged and subsequently found guilty of a second sex crime, it establishes habitual conduct, and even if it's the person's first charge in New Jersey, a previous conviction from another state can result in an extended sentence. Habitual offenders face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without the possibility of parole within that period, and the court has no power to modify this predetermined sentence by reducing or suspending it.
While there may be circumstances that allow for a reduction in the prison term in some cases, under the provisions of New Jersey's "No Early Release Act," some individuals must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole. Examples include those found guilty of certain crimes, including aggravated sexual assault or offenses involving minors.
The Sex Offender Registry
Minor violations typically result in smaller fines and shorter prison sentences, and in many cases, they can be penalized with probation or other rehabilitation methods as opposed to jail/prison. However, there is a frequently overlooked consequence for those convicted of certain sex crimes: being listed as a registered sex offender--for life.
Individuals found guilty of specific 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 classifies registered individuals into three tiers based on their assessed likelihood of reoffending. Each tier determines the extent of information accessible to the public. Higher-tier offenses require extensive information to appear on the registry, including the defendant's address. Lower-tier offenses don't include this information but still require the defendant to notify local law enforcement of their presence in certain areas and to keep their address current every time they move, whether they're moving locally within Somerset County or somewhere else. Regardless of the tier or severity, if your offense requires you to register as a sex offender, your information stays on that registry for life--even if you were convicted of a minor offense and even if you never offend again.
Convictions requiring registration include:
- 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
The Lento Law Firm: Your Advocate for Sex Crime Accusations in Somerset County
Facing sex crime allegations or charges can have far-reaching implications, from potential legal repercussions and damage to your reputation to difficulties in obtaining employment, strained personal relationships, and the possible revocation of professional licenses or certifications. Even if you are completely innocent, attempting to represent yourself in court is not advisable due to the significant risk it poses to your future.
In Somerset County, law enforcement pursues sex crime cases vigorously, utilizing thorough methods to investigate, prosecute, and penalize those accused. The best way to avoid the worst consequences and protect your reputation and freedom is with the help of a skilled, experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney on your side. The Criminal Defense Team of the Lento Law Firm has vast experience defending sex crime charges in Somerset County and across New Jersey. We are prepared to stand beside you, delivering a solid, meticulously strategized defense that puts your rights and overall well-being at the forefront. Without the backing of a powerful legal team, you run the risk of severe jail sentences, substantial financial penalties, and enduring harm to your character and life. To secure your defense, reach out to the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team at 888-535-3686 or contact us online today.