Sex crimes are some of the most serious crimes that you can be charged with in New Jersey. In addition to substantial prison terms and fines, if you're convicted of a sex crime, you may also have to register as a sex offender, something that will publicly mark you for the rest of your life, well after you've done your time. These highly emotional cases can be difficult to defend against, even more so if you try to do it by yourself. The experienced criminal defense attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you make sure you have the strongest defense possible and that your rights are protected throughout the entire process. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation.
While any type of crime can trigger strong emotions, particularly in the victim and their family, a sex crime is an especially difficult one for the victim to deal with. Victims may suffer physically and emotionally, with the emotional damage often lasting years or longer. As a result, sex crime prosecutions are often highly charged, with families and friends appearing in court on behalf of the victim and with the press printing stories about the crime and the defendant from the point of arrest through any trial that might take place. Defendants charged with sex crimes may be refused bail and forced to wait in jail until their case is resolved.
In other words, as far as the public is concerned, many sex crime defendants are guilty before they're convicted, and even if you're ultimately cleared of the charges, your reputation can be harmed for years to come. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help reduce the impact of this kind of publicity, in addition to providing you with as strong and effective a defense of your rights as possible. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has put together this summary of New Jersey sex crime laws and procedures so you can understand more about how the system works, particularly in Trenton. Once you've looked through it, if you have more questions or need our help, contact us!
How Does New Jersey Rank Sex Crimes?
There are five levels, or classes, of sex crimes in New Jersey, each with its own potential penalties.
- First-Degree Offense. This is the most serious. If convicted of a First-Degree Offense, you may receive a fine of up to $200,000 and be imprisoned for 10 to 20 years or longer (including for life) in certain cases.
- Second-Degree Offense. The next most serious is the Second-Degree Offense, for which you can be fined up to $150,000 and imprisoned for 5 to 10 years.
- Third-Degree Offense. A conviction of a Third-Degree Offense comes with a potential fine of up to $15,000 and 3 to 5 years in prison.
- Fourth-Degree Offense. If convicted of a Fourth-Degree Offense, you can be fined up to $10,000 and incarcerated for up to 18 months.
- Disorderly Offense. While this is the least serious of the group, you may still be fined up to $1000 and jailed for up to 6 months.
Which offense level you will be charged with depends on the severity of the allegations against you. You may be charged with aggravated sexual assault (a first-degree offense), where the alleged victim is under the age of 13 or where the sexual assault is alleged to have been committed during the course of a violent crime, among other possible aggravating factors. If you're accused of exposing yourself in a “lewd and offensive” way, on the other hand, you may be charged with a disorderly persons offense. The charges you face can vary depending on the strength of the evidence that prosecutors in Trenton believe they have against you.
Understanding the Age of Consent
Generally speaking, making sexual contact with someone who is not able to or refuses to consent to that contact can result in a sex crime charge. In New Jersey, as in many other states, the ability of a person to consent to sexual contact can depend on their age, their mental capabilities, and their physical condition at the time of the alleged contact. And in some cases, the ability to consent depends on the ages of the two people involved.
Here is a summary of where New Jersey law stands when it comes to consent:
- A child under the age of 13 is legally unable to consent to any sexual contact.
- A child aged 13 to 15 is legally unable to consent to sexual contact with an adult. The child may be able to consent to sexual contact with another child who is up to three years older.
- A child aged 16 or 17 cannot consent to sexual contact with a blood relative, a parent, or a guardian.
- A child aged 18 to 21 who has not graduated high school cannot consent to sexual contact with one of their teachers or school employees.
- Individuals who are “intellectually or mentally incapacitated” or who are “physically helpless or incapacitated” are not able to consent. This can include those who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you understand the charges against you if you've been charged with a sex crime in Trenton. Where consent is in question, our skilled attorneys understand the law and can make sure your rights are protected and that you receive the benefit of the presumption of innocence that is yours under both the New Jersey and United States Constitutions.
New Jersey Sex Crimes Statute of Limitations
You've probably heard of the statute of limitations. That's the time period that must pass before the state is unable to charge someone with committing a crime. Different crimes have different “limitation periods,” and some crimes have no statute of limitations. Aggravated sexual assault, for example, is one of the crimes in New Jersey that has no criminal statute of limitations.
Statues of limitations also exist on the civil side. In New Jersey, victims of certain sex crimes can sue their alleged attackers any time within 37 years after the alleged victim turns 18 if the attack occurred when the victim was a minor. If the attack happened when the person was an adult, they have seven years to bring a lawsuit. These lawsuits can be difficult to resolve, given that they are sometimes brought decades after the alleged assault. And in some cases, if brought within the criminal limitations period, they can lead to criminal charges as well.
Types of Sex Offenses in New Jersey
The level of sex crime that a defendant is charged with depends, in many cases, on the type of contact that was allegedly made with the victim. Physical contact that involves “sexual penetration” is, in most cases, treated more severely than contact that involves “sexual contact.” New Jersey law has specific definitions for these two terms, as well as for other terms that the law – and prosecutors in Trenton – use when determining whether contact between two individuals is sexual in nature or not.
A number of factors can affect the severity of charges brought against someone accused of a sex crime. These can include:
- The victim's age
- The victim's mental capacity or mental state
- Whether or not the act was committed in the course of another crime, such as “robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, homicide, aggravated assault”
- Any injuries suffered by the victim
New Jersey law describes more than one set of facts under which a defendant can be charged with each of the main types of sex crimes in the statutes. For example:
- Aggravated sexual assault can, among other things, be based on “an act of sexual penetration” where the victim's age is under 13; where there is a blood or family relationship between the defendant and the victim (if the victim is 13 to 15 years old); where one or more violent crimes are committed by the defendant or others with the defendant at the time of the sexual assault; and where the defendant used a weapon during the sexual assault. Aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree offense.
- Sexual assault. In New Jersey, sexual assault is a second-degree offense. Examples include having sexual contact (but not penetration) with a victim under 13; engaging in sexual penetration with someone without their “affirmative and freely-given permission” or by using coercion; having sex with someone who is in the hospital or in prison where the defendant has “supervisory or disciplinary power over the victim;” and in several scenarios where the victim is in their teens, and the defendant has a family or supervisory connection with the victim.
- Criminal sexual contact. There are two types:
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact is when there is “an act of sexual contact” (versus “sexual penetration”) and where the other circumstances are similar to those under which a defendant can be charged with aggravated sexual assault. Aggravated criminal sexual contact is a third-degree crime.
- Criminal sexual contact is where there is “an act of sexual contact” (but not “sexual penetration”) in circumstances similar to where the defendant could be charged with sexual assault. Criminal sexual contact is a fourth-degree crime.
- Lewdness. Here, too, there are two types:
- Fourth-degree lewdness is where the defendant “exposes his intimate parts” for their own or someone else's sexual gratification and where the defendant “knows or reasonably expects” to be seen by a child under the age of 13 or by someone whose mental capacity doesn't permit them to “understand the sexual nature” of the defendant's conduct.
- Disorderly persons lewdness is where the defendant “does any flagrantly lewd or offensive act” that the defendant knows or should expect will cause an observer to be “affronted and alarmed.”
Investigation and Trial Procedures
If you've been accused of sexual assault in New Jersey, there is a special set of protocols that apply that are different than those used for other crimes. In particular, the law says that the victim making the allegations has the right to be involved in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. They have the right to review the information contained in the initial incident report created when the victim makes their “initial victim statement” to the police, and the report will indicate if the victim disagrees with the information it contains.
Victims also have the right to be informed in advance of what the prosecutor's decision is with respect to bringing – or not bringing – sexual assault charges. Victims also have the right to consult with the prosecutor before plea negotiations conclude.
New Jersey also has directives in place that require police to report sexual assault allegations to prosecutors within 24 hours of receiving the report. This doesn't necessarily mean that charges will be brought immediately; in many cases, the police investigation may continue well after the initial report is made to prosecutors. In addition, prosecutors – including those in Mercer County, where Trenton is – must use a “consistent standard” for deciding whether or not to charge someone with sexual assault, and a supervising assistant district attorney must approve all decisions about whether to drop or bring charges.
- charges have been brought, the court process is similar to most other criminal cases. Steps include:
- Arraignment. This is where you are formally charged and have an opportunity to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” At the first appearance, there may also be a pretrial detention hearing to determine if you're to be released on bail and, if so, what the bail conditions will be. Note that it's not unusual for courts to refuse bail for defendants accused of violent sex crimes or who are determined to be a flight risk. The vast majority of men and women being held in jail in Mercer County, where Trenton is located, are held awaiting trial.
- Discovery. The prosecution is required to disclose certain information to the defense during the course of the case, including at or shortly after the arraignment. One of the reasons to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney is to make sure that you receive all of the required discovery in advance of trial.
- Meet and Confer. The prosecutor is required to discuss the case with your attorney outside of court. This provides an opportunity for your attorney to discuss weaknesses in the prosecution's case, including discussing evidence in your favor. This is also where the prosecution may make a plea offer. Plea offers are required to be made in writing and will be provided to you as part of discovery.
- Pretrial hearings. There may be one or more pretrial hearings. These are typically designed to resolve issues. For example, your attorney may bring a motion asking the judge not to allow the prosecution to use certain evidence in its case against you or to rule in advance that one or more counts against you should be dismissed before a trial.
- Pretrial conference. If it appears your case is going to trial, there will be a pretrial conference to discuss how the trial will operate, what issues will be tried (and dismissed); what witness will appear for both sides, how long both sides estimate they'll need for their side of the case; and other matters designed to help the trial process.
- Trial. Typically, each side will make opening arguments, and then the prosecution will bring its witnesses and introduce the evidence against you. You will have the chance to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses and to argue against introducing evidence that doesn't meet New Jersey's admissibility requirements. You'll then have a chance to put on your defense but are not required to testify. Each side will have closing arguments, and if it's a jury trial, the jury will receive instructions about how they're to decide the case.
When you're facing years – even decades – in prison for a serious sex crime charge, you need to be represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands New Jersey's complicated criminal laws relating to sex crimes and who is familiar with the procedures used in Trenton's criminal courts. Don't try to represent yourself when the stakes are this high – call the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team to learn how we can help you.
Sex Crime Mandatory Minimum Sentences
You need to know about New Jersey's mandatory minimum sentences for certain types of sex crimes. In particular, if you're convicted for a second time of sexual assault or aggravated criminal sexual contact, you're facing a minimum prison sentence of 5 years, during which you're not eligible for parole. In addition, if you're convicted of aggravated sexual assault and certain types of sexual assault, you will be required to serve 85% of your sentence before being eligible for parole.
Sex Offender Registry
Once you've served your time – and in some cases, even if you plead your case out and avoid a jail sentence – you may be required to publicly register as a sex offender for the remainder of your life. Your name and home address may be disclosed to anyone who accesses New Jersey's sex offender registry, and even if someone doesn't know who you are, they can identify you by searching for sex offenders in a certain part of the state. Your name, address, and photo will be listed, and you'll be identified as a “Tier 1” or “Tier 2” offender. Information about your conviction will also be disclosed.
How New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help
With so much at stake, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you've been charged with a sex crime in Trenton. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has decades of experience representing defendants in Trenton and all over New Jersey charged with serious crimes of all types, including sex crimes. We understand the laws that apply to these difficult cases, the procedures that the courts use to try them, and, most importantly, how to protect your rights throughout the entire process.
In addition, we understand how difficult this is for you, and we will help you understand what's going on and how you can help us help you. If you've been accused of any kind of sex crime, call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. You don't have to face this alone, and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is here to help.