In New Jersey, the term "sex crimes" is the blanket term for a number of crimes that involve sexual contact or sexual penetration. When a defendant is accused of a sex crime, it can be hard to figure out how to build a proper defense. There are steps you must take to protect yourself from long-term consequences, like prison sentences and fines. The first step, though, is to reach out to a skilled criminal attorney.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team will be able to prepare your defense, gathering witness testimony and evidence to support your argument and mitigate the severity of any negative consequences you might experience. Call Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or go online to schedule a consultation.
How Does New Jersey Rank Sex Crimes?
Under New Jersey law, sex crimes are graded based on the severity of the supposed incident. As such, there are five degrees of sex crimes. The degree of the sex crime the defendant is charged with will inform the court's sentencing decision.
- If a defendant is charged and convicted of a first-degree offense, they face a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $200,000.
- Defendants convicted of a second-degree sex crime will face a maximum sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $150,000.
- For third-degree offenses, defendants face a maximum sentence of three to five years in prison and a maximum fine of up to $15,000.
- Fourth-degree offenses can be sentenced to a maximum of 18 months in prison and a maximum fine of up to $10,000.
- Disorderly offenses, while less serious than a felony, carry a conviction of up to six months in prison and a maximum fine of up to $1,000 fine.
For the most part, when the alleged crime involves aggravated sexual assaults, rape, or other severe sexual crimes, it falls under first-degree offenses. But if the sex crime involves indecent exposure or lewdness, the crime would be either a fourth-degree offense or a disorderly offense.
Understanding the Age of Consent
The age of consent is an important detail in sex crime charges. In Warren County, when parties engage in sexual activity, if one falls within one of the categories below, they cannot give legal consent – which makes the incident a sex crime.
Individuals who cannot give legal consent are those who are:
- Under the age of 16.
- Over the age of 16 who have a physical or mental disability.
- Unconscious at the time of the incident.
- Over the age of 16 who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Under 18 when the attacker is their parent, guardian, or someone with supervisory authority over them.
However, in cases where both of the parties are 13 and 16, these exceptions do not apply. For example, if the parties are 14 and 17, the 14-year-old cannot give legal consent, and the 17-year-old can be charged with a sex crime. Alternatively, if the parties are 14 and 15 and gave consent, it is considered valid consent.
New Jersey Sex Crimes Statute of Limitations
There are many states that have statute of limitations – specific time periods – where victims can bring accusations against a defendant. The hope is that putting such limitations in place will encourage victims to come forward, prevent evidence from going stale, and protect a defendant's due process rights.
When a victim wants to file a civil case against their alleged attacker, they have 37 years from their 18th birthday to file the claim, but only if they were a minor when the incident occurred. If they were over the age of 18, though, the victim only has seven years file a lawsuit, and the clock starts ticking the moment they acknowledge they have a civil right to a claim that relates to the incident.
For criminal charges, though, New Jersey has decided to amend the law as it relates to the statute of limitations. As it is written now, there is no statute of limitations if the attack involves rape or sexual assault. Moreover, it no longer matters whether the victim was a minor or an adult at the time of the incident. What this means, however, is that victims can bring criminal charges against unsuspecting individuals whenever they feel like it. Working with a criminal attorney is the only way to ensure you are not subjected to unnecessary hardships.
Common Sex Offenses in New Jersey
In Warren County, there are several types of offenses that fall under sex crimes. Typically, these offenses all have sexual contact or sexual penetration in common, which are defined as follows:
- Sexual penetration: inserting something (either a body part or a foreign object) into another person's vagina, mouth, or anus.
- Sexual contact: purposely touching another person's "intimate parts," directly or through their clothing, to humiliate or shame them or for sexual arousal or gratification.
To determine the particular crime to charge a suspect with, law enforcement and the prosecution will look at several things, such as the victim and defendant's ages, how they are connected, facts surrounding the incident, and what might have provoked the alleged incident. The most common crimes that fall under sex crimes include:
- Aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree crime that is defined as the sexual penetration of (a) a child under 13 years old, (b) an individual between the ages of 13 and 16 when the defendant is either related to them or has the power to discipline them, (c) an individual while committing another crime, or (d) an individual while either threatening them with a weapon or actually using the weapon to force them and then injuring them.
- Rape is a second-degree crime that is also referred to as "sexual assault." It is defined as the sexual penetration, no matter how slightly, while the victim is physically or mentally incapacitated while using coercion or physical force or under the defendant's legal control or supervision.
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact is a third-degree where a defendant has sexual contact with another person while committing or attempting to commit burglary, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, homicide, arson, or criminal escape.
- Indecent exposure is a fourth-degree crime. It is defined as revealing intimate body parts for sexual gratification when they know, or should rationally know, that a minor will see them, that a child under the age of 13 will see them, or that someone with a mental incapacity will see them.
- Lewdness can fall under a fourth-degree offense or a disorderly offense; it depends on the age of the victim. For instance, if a defendant shows their intimate body parts to a nonconsenting person under the age of 13, it is considered a fourth-degree offense, but if they are over 13, it is considered a disorderly offense.
Investigation and Trial Procedures
The moment you are notified of the accusations against you, you must start preparing your defense. In New Jersey, sex crime charges tend to be expedited to ensure public safety concerns. According to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General local law enforcement must forward any sex crime case that crosses their desk, which they believe will be a third-degree offense or higher, to state prosecutors within 24 hours. However, for the most part, law enforcement will begin investigating the accusations immediately. Hiring an attorney prior to this initial investigation will not only ensure you are prepared to answer questions but will protect you from situations with law enforcement that can hurt your defense.
Once law enforcement suspects a defendant and they find probable cause, they will arrest them and inform the Warren County prosecutors. The prosecutors will review the facts of the case and decide whether the charges the police have levied are appropriate. If the prosecutors believe the charges are appropriate, they will proceed with the case.
Before the trial starts, however, there are several instances where the defendant can assert their innocence, including:
- The arraignment is where the judge reads the criminal charges to the defendant in court.
- At the bail hearing when the court decides if they should be released on the condition that they will appear in court during the scheduled times – rather than spend the time in between in custody.
- During the discovery period, which is when both parties exchange information that is relevant to the case.
- At the plea negotiations, when the prosecutors and defense attorneys will try to come up with an agreement on how the defendant should plead.
- Other pretrial motions, such as motions to overturn evidence, addressing legal matters, or having the charges dismissed.
Once the trial begins, both the prosecution and the defense will have a chance to present their argument, witnesses, and relevant evidence. They will also have a chance to cross-examine one another's witnesses and evidence to refute the other side's argument. When both sides have been heard, the court will decide whether the defendant is guilty of the accused sex crime. And, if they are, the court will hold a sentencing hearing later.
Sex Crime Mandatory Minimum Sentences
As we explained above, there are five degrees of sex crimes in Warren County. To determine the kind of mandatory minimum sentence a defendant might qualify for is based on the degree the charge falls under. For example, if a defendant is convicted of a second-degree sex crime more than once, even if the first conviction took place outside of New Jersey, they will be labeled a "habitual offender." Habitual offenders qualify for a minimum of five years in prison with no possibility of parole.
Minimum sentences cannot be reduced unless they fall under New Jersey's No Release Act, which specifies that if a defendant qualifies for early release, they have to have served at least 85% of their sentence.
Sexual Offender Registry
In addition to facing a prison sentence and fine, defendants in Warren County could also be forced to register on the sex offender registry. There are three tiers of registered sex offenders. Which tier a defendant is registered in is based on their probability of re-offending. For instance, those on Tier 1 usually pose a low risk of danger to the public, Tier 2 offenders are of a moderate risk, and Tier 3 are those who are at a high risk of re-offending.
The most common sex crime convictions that sex offender registration include the following:
- Criminal sexual contact with a minor victim.
- Luring or enticing, criminally restraining, kidnapping, or falsely imprisoning a minor victim that is not the defendant's child.
- Sexual conduct that damages or corrupts the morals of a child.
- Actions that jeopardize the welfare of a child by involving them in pornography.
- Endorsing prostitution of a minor.
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact.
- Aggravated sexual assault.
- Sexual assault.
How New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help You
Facing a sex crime accusation in Warren County can be overwhelmingly scary. Not only can it impact your personal life, but it can impact your professional life now and in the future. Thus, it is crucial to seek assistance from a seasoned criminal defense team who knows the best possible defense for your case.
The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team recognizes the fear associated with these charges and will work diligently to make sure you are prepared to defend yourself. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or visit us online today.