Criminal Sentencing in New Jersey
What factors are considered during sentencing in NJ criminal cases?
If you are convicted of a crime in New Jersey, the judge will consider a variety of factors before imposing your sentence. New Jersey law has certain sentencing guidelines to provide the judge with a range of a minimum sentence to maximum sentence within which they can order a term of imprisonment. Within the minimum and maximum term, the judge must use their discretion and the weight of certain factors to determine the appropriate sentence in your case. There are two main types of factors considered during criminal sentencing in New Jersey: aggravating factors, which support a more severe sentence, and mitigating factors, which weigh in favor of a lesser sentence. It is important to understand the factors that matter when you are being sentenced for a crime because they will have a great impact on your ultimate punishment.
Penalties for all criminal charges in New Jersey are severe, which is why it is imperative to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer fighting for you prior to the sentencing stage. Sometimes, having an aggressive criminal attorney on your side can spell the difference between a positive and negative result. At The Tormey Law Firm, our seasoned legal team will do everything we can to avoid your case ever making it to the sentencing stage. We are committed to investigating every possible avenue to a successful outcome, whether that means getting your charges downgraded to a lesser offense, helping you gain admission into a diversionary program like Pretrial Intervention (PTI), negotiating a better plea deal with the prosecutor, or using one of our battle-tested defense strategies to achieve a dismissal at trial. If you do make it to sentencing, we use all of our knowledge and experience to present the most compelling case for a minimal sentence. To speak with a skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorney about your specific case, contact us at (201)-556-1570 or fill out our online form to arrange a free consultation.
How Judges Decide Sentences in NJ Criminal Cases
When deciding a proper sentence in a criminal case in New Jersey, the judge will look at two categories of factors: aggravating and mitigating. Aggravating factors are basically the ones that count against you. On the other hand, mitigating factors are the ones that count in your favor. Depending on the way these factors balance out (or don’t), you may be sentenced to the maximum in the sentencing range or be given a more lenient sentence. Each category of factors is explained in greater detail below.
Aggravating Factors: The Negatives
First, the court will consider the “nature and circumstances of the offense.” The judge will take into account the defendant’s role in committing the offense and the intent with which they committed the crime. The judge will also consider the seriousness of the harm to the victim, as well as whether the defendant knew the victim was particularly vulnerable—ill, very young, very old, or otherwise mentally or physically vulnerable.
Additional aggravating factors include: whether the defendant has a prior criminal record, is involved in organized crime, was paid to commit the crime, committed the crime against a police officer or other public servant, knew or should have known the victim was disabled or over 60 years of age, or used a stolen vehicle during the commission of the crime. The court will also take into account whether the offense involved fraud against the state, an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child or if the defendant has previously committed an act of domestic violence.
Lastly, the court will consider the need to deter the defendant and others from this criminal activity and whether the defendant is likely to consider a fine or order of restitution merely a “cost of doing business.” Even if the defendant has no prior criminal history, the judge may find a need to deter where the defendant shows a lack of remorse or denial of wrongdoing.
Mitigating Factors: The Positives
The court will also take into account positive factors that weigh in the defendant’s favor and mitigate the need to impose a more extensive term of imprisonment. Some of the mitigating factors the court will consider include: if the defendant has not caused serious harm, did not think or intend that their conduct would cause serious harm, or if the defendant was strongly provoked. If there are substantial grounds that tend to justify or excuse the defendant’s actions, the court may consider such factors. However, addiction and intoxication do not necessarily tend to justify or excuse a defendant’s actions.
The judge will also consider whether the victim contributed to the crime in some way, and if the defendant is unlikely to reoffend, does not have a prior criminal record, has compensated the victim, will participate in community service, and is likely to respond positively to probation.
Additional mitigating factors the court will consider when imposing a sentence include whether imprisonment would create excessive hardship to the defendant or their dependents, if the defendant was cooperative with law enforcement, or if the defendant was a youthful offender influenced by an older person.
The aggravating and mitigating factors described above are weighed carefully by the judge in determining an appropriate sentence for a person convicted of a crime in New Jersey. Notably, the defendant and his or her attorney have the right to address the court and present their side prior to sentencing for a criminal charge.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors – Determining and Appropriate Sentence
On an indictable (felony) charge in New Jersey, the Judge is bound by the plea agreement between the State and the defendant. This means that, the Judge can only sentence a defendant to the maximum agreed upon terms but can sentence the defendant to less than the maximum if they deem it appropriate. For example, if a defendant has agreed to plead guilty to a third degree crime with a recommended sentence of 3 years in prison (flat), then the Judge can only give 3 years or less than 3 years. If the Judge tries to sentence the defendant to 4 years in prison, the defendant can withdraw their plea. However, if the Judge believes the mitigating factors significantly outweigh the aggravating factors, then the Judge could sentence the defendant to probation instead of 3 years in prison. In addition to prison time, the aggravating and mitigating factors will be considered to determine the length of probation, fines, community service, driver’s license suspension, and any other potential consequences under the statute.
Our experienced NJ criminal lawyers are ready to assist you and answer any questions you have regarding criminal charges and sentencing under New Jersey law. Please feel free to contact us anytime at (201)-556-1570 for a free consultation with an attorney who can assist you. The lawyers at The Tormey Law Firm are available anytime to answer your questions. Contact us today for more information.