Defending yourself from New Jersey sex crime charges is no easy undertaking. With potential maximum punishments measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and decades behind bars, most understand that retaining the assistance of professional legal representation is imperative. Given the nature of the charges, there is no specific profile for an alleged offender, and anyone—regardless of age, gender, education, or occupation—may find themselves in front of a Cape May County judge or jury.
Amplified emotions often encumber proceedings, especially among friends, family, and close community members. Even if charges are dropped or the defendant is exonerated, the accused often has their reputation tarnished for years. But if the charges are proven, extensive fines and periods of incarceration are common—not to mention a file listed on New Jersey's online and publicly available sex offender registry.
The reasons you need a solid and compelling defense strategy are clear, but you shouldn't go at it alone. Take the situation with the seriousness it deserves and reach out to the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team. Our team ensures you exercise your right to due process and fair defense, providing a foundation for you to effectively challenge sex crime allegations and charges. Cape May County won't hesitate to craft a case against you, so act now and call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or go online.
How Does New Jersey Rank Sex Crimes?
In New Jersey, sex crimes are ranked through five distinct levels of legal severity. The judicial system's levels, also called degrees, cover the subsequent offense gradient along with their associated penalties:
- First-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 10 to 20 years and a maximum fine of up to $200,000, with prison sentences of up to life in some cases
- Second-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 5 to 10 years and a maximum fine of up to $150,000
- Third-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 3 to 5 years and a maximum fine of up to $15,000
- Fourth-Degree Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 18 months and a maximum fine of up to $10,000
- Disorderly Offense: Maximum Incarceration of 6 months and a maximum fine of up to $1,000
In New Jersey, the approach to each case is tailored to the particular circumstances and facts at hand. Incidents that are deemed of the utmost legal severity, like rape and aggravated sexual assault, typically are classified as first-degree offenses. On the other hand, actions that are regarded as less legally severe, like indecent exposure or lewdness, are generally categorized as fourth-degree crimes and disorderly offenses.
Understanding the Age of Consent
In the context of New Jersey law, sexual acts identified as assault or contact occur when the individual either refrains from granting permission for the sexual act or is not lawfully able to provide consent to the act. The following are categories of people who may be unable to give consent within the context of New Jersey law:
- Children under 16
- Individuals with various physical or mental incapacities
- Those without consciousness
- People under the influence of substances like drugs or alcohol
- Minors when the other consenting party has parental, guardian, or supervisory authority over them
There is one distinction for some minors, though. Consent laws don't apply in the same way to individuals aged between 13 and 16. For example, a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old may legally consent to each other.
New Jersey Sex Crimes Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations defines the time period within which a crime—in this case, a sexual crime—may be reported and taken through the steps of the state's judicial system. This ensures timely legal action for accusers but also protects due process for the accused.
For civil charges, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2 enables sex crime victims to file a lawsuit within 37 years after attaining the age of majority—18 years old—if the alleged action happened when the victim was a minor. Conversely, adults are given seven years, beginning from the moment they acknowledge a civil right to claim relating to a former sexual offense.
The way New Jersey approaches criminal charges is different. For crimes driven by an aggravated intent like sexual assault or rape, there is no longer a statute of limitations, applying to both minor and adult victims.
Given the gravity of alleged sex crimes, some try to use class action cases to settle matters with unknown potential accusers. However, New Jersey law states that "any private, contractual arrangement intending to settle claims… on a class basis is against public policy and shall be void and unenforceable."
Common Sex Offenses in New Jersey
A crucial element in comprehending sex crimes lies in recognizing the specific type of offense being alleged. For instance, the legal system will make distinctions between actions that include sexual penetration and those that consist of sexual contact. These differentiations could establish the variance between an offense classified as a third-degree crime and one that is considered a first-degree crime.
N.J.S.A. 2C:14-1 defines the two as the following:
- Sexual penetration: "vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio or anal intercourse" resulting from inserting a "finger, hand, or object."
- Sexual contact: intentionally touching the victim's "intimate parts" either directly or through clothing, committed to degrade or humiliate the victim or for sexual arousal or gratification.
The severity of the offense, and thus the degree, is influenced by a variety of elements, including the following:
- Age of the victim
- Age of the accused
- The connection between the parties
- Details of the alleged act
- The motivations surrounding the alleged act
While there are multiple charges a defendant can face, there are a few more common ones, like those listed below:
- Aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)): A first-degree crime involving sexual penetration with someone under the age of 13, with someone between 13 and 16 if the defendant had a familial relationship with the complainant or disciplinary power over the complainant, with someone during the course of another crime, or using force that produced an injury or with threatened force using a weapon.
- Sexual Assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b)-(c)): A second-degree crime—also known as rape—involving sexual penetration through the use of physical force or coercion—without physical harm—when the accuser is physically or mentally incapacitated or under the defendant's legal control or supervision.
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3(a)): A third-degree crime involving sexual contact after coercion or force that leads to a physical injury to the accuser or with certain minors.
- Criminal sexual contact (N.J.S.A 2C:14-3(b)): A fourth-degree crime involving sexual contact using coercion, but without the use of force or injury to the victim, in other circumstances similar to those that would apply in a sexual assault case.
- Indecent exposure: (N.J.S.A 2C:14-4(b)): A fourth-degree crime involving exposing intimate parts for the purpose of sexual gratification when the defendant reasonably knows that they will be seen either by a child under 13, certain minors depending on the age of the defendant, or by someone with a mental incapacity that makes them unable to understand the sexual nature of the exposure.
- Lewdness (N.J.S.A 2C:14-4(a)): A disorderly offense—fourth-degree is involving a minor under the age of 13—involving any act in which the defendant reasonably expects is likely to be observed by "nonconsenting persons who would be affronted or alarmed."
Investigation and Trial Procedures
Don't think that you'll have a surplus of time to prepare yourself before proceedings begin. The New Jersey justice system is now using a more expedited method to manage sex crimes. According to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, local law enforcement personnel must send all matters relating to sex crimes presumed to be above the third degree to prosecutors within 24 hours. But for any allegation, expect authorities to begin investigating immediately.
If local authorities determine there is probable cause to believe a crime has occurred, an arrest may occur depending on the initial facts of the case. Afterward, the Cape May County prosecutor will evaluate the initial evidence and determine appropriate charges. As pretrial procedures begin, the accused will engage with the justice system in a few ways, including those listed below:
- Arraignment—formal reading of the criminal charges in the presence of the defendant.
- Bail setting—conditional release of a defendant with the promise to appear in court when required.
- Discovery—parties will exchange information and evidence with each other.
- Plea Negotiations—agreements between the prosecution and defense for a plea agreement.
- Other pretrial motions from either party—the attempt to overturn various forms of evidence, dismissing charges, addressing additional legal matters.
A defense attorney with considerable experience becomes essential at this juncture, safeguarding the rights of the accused and formulating an effective strategy. If the judge—or grand jury in cases involving more severe offenses—decides to advance the case to a complete trial, the significance of professional legal counsel is amplified further.
During the trial, both the defense and prosecution initiate proceedings by outlining their case in opening statements. They proceed to present evidence and call upon witnesses, with opportunities to cross-examine each other's witnesses. Then, both sides recapitulate their positions through closing arguments, leading to deliberation and the eventual verdict. If the charges are confirmed, a separate sentencing hearing is scheduled. At this stage, the judge assesses the suitable penalty in compliance with New Jersey's legal statutes.
Sex Crime Mandatory Minimum Sentences
The degree of a sexual offense is instrumental in determining the legal consequences, as is the recurrence of offenses invoking further implications for sentencing. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:14-6, individuals charged and subsequently convicted of a second offense are labeled as habitual offenders. Even if it is an individual's first criminal charge within New Jersey, a prior conviction from a different jurisdiction may influence the guidelines for sentencing the current offense. Habitual offenders are mandated to fulfill a minimum sentence of five years, with no possibility for parole, and the judiciary lacks the discretion to reduce or postpone this punishment.
Reductions for incarceration are possible, but under the provisions of New Jersey's "No Early Release Act," some individuals must serve at least 85 percent of the designated sentence before release in some cases. This isn't how the punishment of every case is treated, only those subject to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, which includes crimes of an aggravated nature or instances involving minors.
Sexual Offender Registry
Apart from fines and time behind bars, there is a more public consequence for those who are convicted of sex crimes. Those found guilty of particular 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 differentiates registered offenders into three tiers. Each tier is based on the probability of re-offense and has varying degrees of personal information—like home addresses—made accessible to the public. Some examples of convictions that call for inclusion on the New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry include the following:
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated criminal sexual contact
- Criminal sexual contact against a minor.
- Criminal restraint or false imprisonment of a minor.
Even those in the lowest tier may be required to inform authorities of their presence in specific regions. Therefore, before you fight allegations or charges of sex crimes, seek professional help.
How New Jersey's Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help You
If you find yourself facing allegations or charges connected with sexual crimes, you are confronted with potential legal consequences, the tarnishing of your reputation, challenges in securing work, strained interpersonal relationships, and the possible forfeiture of professional credentials or licensures. Even if you have confidence in the reliability of your perspective, navigating your defense alone within the court's environment is unwise. Instead, retain a team ready to defend you now.
Equipped with a broad background in Cape May County and across New Jersey, the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team stands prepared to align with you, deploying a resilient, meticulously designed defense that emphasizes your legal entitlements and overall well-being. In Cape May County, the enforcement of sex crimes is undertaken with great determination, employing thorough and exhaustive methods to probe, evaluate, and punish those charged. Securing adept and steadfast legal support from the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team is indispensable in preserving your name and freedom. Call 888-535-3686 or go online today.