Sex Crime Defense in Union County

When a crime involves sexual activity, like sexual penetration or sexual contact, it falls under the sex crimes umbrella term. No matter the crime accused, though, there are serious consequences a defendant can suffer, including long-term prison sentences, substantial fines, sex offender registration, as well as personal and professional difficulties. As such, it is incredibly important to hire an experienced and highly competitive criminal defense team.

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands the New Jersey legal system inside and out. They will help you navigate the proceedings and prepare a solid defense that guarantees the best possible outcome for your case. Call Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or visit us online to schedule a consultation.

How Does New Jersey Rank Sex Crimes?

Sex crimes are classified by the severity of the incident. In New Jersey, there are five degrees of sex crimes, and the degree of the sex crime will impact the court's sentencing decision.

  • Defendants who are convicted of first-degree offenses face a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $200,000.
  • Those who are convicted of a second-degree sex crime can be sentenced to a maximum of five to 10 years in prison and up to a $150,000 fine.
  • Third-degree offenses can incur a maximum sentence of three to five years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $15,000.
  • Defendants convicted of a fourth-degree offense, though, face a maximum of 18 months in prison and a maximum fine of up to $10,000.
  • Disorderly offenses are less serious than felony offenses, but they carry a conviction of up to six months in prison and a maximum fine of up to $1,000 fine.

Mostly, when the suspected misconduct encompasses aggravated sexual assaults, rape, or other severe sexual crimes, it will fall under a first-degree offense. But if it involves lewdness or indecent exposure, the crime would either be considered a fourth-degree offense or a disorderly offense (it depends on the age of the alleged victim).

Understanding the Age of Consent

In Union County, the age of consent is an important detail when charging a defendant with a sex crime. Several individuals cannot give legal consent to engage in sexual activity. So, even if one of them tells the court that they wanted to engage in the sexual act, they legally cannot agree to it and a defendant can still be charged with a sex crime.

Individuals who cannot give legal consent in New Jersey include:

  • Minors under the age of 16.
  • Individuals over the age of 16 who have a physical or mental disability or difference.
  • People who are unconscious at the time of the alleged crime.
  • Individuals over 16 who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Minors under 18 when the other party is their parent, guardian, or someone with supervisory authority over them.

There are some cases, though, where minors can legally consent to sexual activity with one another. According to the law, when both parties are between 13 and 16, they can legally consent. Unfortunately, this means that if one party is 16 and the other is 17, the 16-year-old cannot legally consent to the sexual activity and the 17-year-old can be charged with sexual assault or rape.

New Jersey Sex Crimes Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a certain period of time that a victim can legally bring a case against a defendant. The point of such limitations is to ensure the evidence is still available and relevant and to prevent false accusations from being made more regularly, thus protecting a defendant's due process rights.

For example, in New Jersey, if a victim was a minor during the alleged offense, the state stipulates that they have 37 years from the day they turned 18 to file a civil lawsuit against a defendant. However, if they were over the age of 18 at the time, they have only seven years from the moment they realize and recognize they have a right to file a civil claim that relates to the crime.

When it comes to criminal charges, though, New Jersey has no statute of limitations if the crime involves rape or sexual assault. Nor does it matter if the victim was a minor or an adult at the time of the alleged offense. The victim can alert the police at any time. As such, hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney is the only way to ensure you are not subjected to unnecessary consequences and adversities.

Common Sex Offenses in New Jersey

Numerous offenses fall under the sex crimes blanket term. Normally, these offenses share sexual contact or sexual penetration, which are defined as:

  • Sexual penetration: inserting either a body part or foreign object something into another person's mouth, vagina, or anus.
  • Sexual contact: deliberately touching another person's "intimate parts," directly or through their clothing, to degrade or embarrass them, or for sexual arousal or satisfaction.

Law enforcement and the prosecution will look at several factors to determine how to charge the suspect. For instance, they will consider the victim's age, the defendant's age, how they are connected, the facts surrounding the case, and what might have provoked the alleged behavior. The following crimes are the most common charges under the blanket term "sex crimes":

  • Aggravated sexual assault: the sexual penetration of (a) a child under 13, (b) a child between 13 and 16, if the defendant has either the power to discipline them or is related to them, (c) a person while committing another crime, or (d) a person while either threatening them with a weapon or actually using the weapon to force them into sexual penetration and injuring them in the process. Aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree offense.
  • Rape or sexual assault: the sexual penetration of a victim while they are under the defendant's legal control or supervision, while the defendant uses coercion or force, or when the victim is physically or mentally incapacitated. These are second-degree offenses.
  • Aggravated criminal sexual contact: a defendant has sexual contact with a victim while committing or attempting to commit robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, arson, criminal escape, kidnapping, or homicide. This is a third-degree offense.
  • Indecent exposure: revealing intimate body parts for sexual satisfaction when the defendant knows, or should reasonably know, that a child under 13 will see them, that a minor will see them, or that a person with a mental incapacity will see them. Indecent exposure is a fourth-degree offense.
  • Lewdness: showing intimate body parts to a non-consenting person. If the victim is under the age of 13, this is a fourth-degree offense. But if they are over 13, it is a disorderly offense.

Investigation and Trial Procedures

It is very important in cases such as these to hit the ground running. So, the moment you are informed of the charges against you, you need to begin planning your defense. This is especially true because sex crime charges tend to be expedited in New Jersey to ensure public safety.

The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General has specified that once local law enforcement is notified of a sex crime that they believe might be a third-degree offense or higher, they must inform state prosecutors within 24 hours. Most law enforcement offices will typically begin investigating immediately. As such, hiring an attorney the moment you learn of these charges is incredibly important. Your attorney will be able to help prepare you to answer questions, prevent unnecessary hardships, and mitigate the likelihood that your case is picked up by the state prosecutors.

However, in the event the case is pursued, there are plenty of chances to assert a defense before the trial starts, including:

  • At the arraignment, when the judge reads the criminal charges to the defendant in court.
  • During a bail hearing the court determines whether the defendant should be released before the trial on the condition that they will show up for every scheduled meeting or hearing.
  • The discovery period, when the parties swap information – like computer data, letters, social media messages, etc. – that is pertinent to the case.
  • At the plea negotiations when the attorneys are trying to come up with an agreement on the defendant's plea. Usually, a defendant will agree to a plea deal in exchange for a lesser sentence.
  • During other pretrial motions, like a motion to overturn evidence, motions that address legal matters of the case, or a motion to have the charges dismissed.

If the case is not dismissed during one of these instances, the trial will be scheduled. During the trial, both parties will present their arguments, witnesses, and relevant evidence to either a judge – or to both a judge and jury (depending on the defense's strategy). Additionally, the parties will have a chance to cross-examine one another's witnesses and evidence. So, if your defense attorney believes it is a good strategy to place you on the witness stand during your defense, the prosecution will have a chance to ask you questions.

At the end of the hearing, after both sides have made their cases, the judge -or jury – will determine if they have heard enough to convict the defendant of the charges. If they have found enough, and the elements of the crime have been made, the court will hold a second hearing to determine what punishments to give the defendant. The punishment a defendant might receive depends on the severity of the crime and the risk of re-offense.

Sex Crime Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Just like there are statutory maximum sentences a defendant of a sex crime can receive if convicted, there are also mandatory minimum sentences. To figure out the mandatory minimum sentence a defendant might get, we must first know what degree their alleged sex crime falls under. For instance, if the defendant is convicted of a second-degree sex crime and is released and then re-offends and is convicted a second time, they will be labeled a "habitual offender." This is true even if the initial conviction happened in another state. Habitual offenders, according to New Jersey law, will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison without the possibility of parole.

The only time minimum sentences can be lowered is if they fall under the No Release Act. This act states that a defendant can only qualify for early release if they have already served at least 85% of their sentence.

Sexual Offender Registry

Most defendants facing a sex crime accusation focus on the potentially hefty prison sentence and fines but fail to realize that they may also end up on the New Jersey Sexual Offender Registry. According to New Jersey's "Megan's Law," some convicted sex offenders must register with law enforcement. This law also provides that depending on the defendant's degree of risk for re-offending, certain individuals in their community must also be notified.

There are three tiers of registered sex offenders in New Jersey. Tier 1 offenders pose the lowest risk of danger to the public – and thus the lowest risk of re-offending. Tier 2 offenders pose a moderate risk, and Tier 3 offenders are at the highest risk of re-offending. Thus, Tier 1 offenders would likely only have to notify law enforcement, but Tier 3 offenders would have to notify the schools or parents in their neighborhood of their presence.

The following sex crime convictions most often require registration on the sex offender registry:

  • Aggravated criminal sexual contact.
  • Aggravated sexual assault.
  • Sexual assault or rape.
  • Endorsing prostitution of a minor.
  • Actions that endanger the well-being of a child by involving them in pornography.
  • Criminal sexual contact with a victim who is a minor.
  • Luring or enticing, criminally restraining, kidnapping, or falsely imprisoning a minor that is not the offender's child.
  • Any kind of sexual conduct that injures or distorts the morals of a child.

How New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help You

Having to defend yourself against a sex crime accusation in Union County can be frustrating, overwhelming, and exhausting. This is why it is so important to reach out to a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately.

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team has helped hundreds of defendants around New Jersey. They understand the intricacies of these types of cases and will work diligently to mitigate any negative consequences you might experience. You do not want to weather this storm alone. Call 888-535-3686 or visit us online to schedule a consultation today.

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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