The Impact of Violence on Crime Grading in New Jersey
How Does a Violent Offense Affect the Degree of Criminal Charges in NJ?
Without a doubt, all states want to reduce violent crime. Each state has its scheme to deter and punish violence most effectively. New Jersey is no exception. New Jersey laws are the strictest regarding violent crime, such as armed robbery, assault, weapons violations, murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, and rape. As violence is considered the most severe breach of public trust, the New Jersey legislature enacted laws that severely punish violent crimes. The penalties include lengthy prison sentences and high fines. Moreover, the federal government’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 enlarged death penalty crimes and spelled out the penalties for sex, hate, and gang crimes. As a result of the 1994 law, fewer people could obtain firearms, and applicant immigrants potentially lost their status due to criminal arrests and convictions.
What is Considered a Violent Crime?
According to the federal government’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program and state guidelines, violent crimes are those accomplished by actual or threatened force to victims. Thus, homicide, manslaughter, armed robbery, and sexual or aggravated sexual assault occur when someone uses physical force or a weapon to enact the crime. The perpetrator risks harm or injury to victims’ lives, whether the damage is a direct result of intended action or an unintentional but foreseeable injury due to the violent nature of the crime.
There are Extended Sentences for Some Acts of Violence in New Jersey
A prosecutor may request longer or enhanced sentences for repeat or persistent offenders, those who have at least two prior criminal convictions as an adult by the time they are 21 and are currently prosecuted for a first, second, or third degree crime. Also, career or hired criminals, co-conspirators, and second offenders caught with a firearm are all subject to enhanced sentences under New Jersey Annotated Statutes 2C:44-3 with a first, second, or third degree conviction. Career or professional criminals are those whose livelihood revolves around crime, like a partner or actor in a drug trafficking operation. And one who expects remuneration or something of value in exchange for committing a crime may receive an enhanced sentence.
Violent Crimes Often Come with a Presumption of Imprisonment
Even without enhanced sentences, first and second degree criminal convictions come with a presumption that a judge’s sentence includes incarceration. And certain third degree convictions, such as those involving domestic violence, may also have an incarceration presumption. Third degree crimes are punishable by three to five years in prison. Typically, lower grade criminal convictions do not come with a presumption of incarceration, and sentences for probation or diversionary programs are more likely for those defendants. However, judges may consider mitigating and aggravating facts that allow a downgrade of the crime grade or an enhancement to the standard punishment. Thus, a third degree crime involving guns or physical injury to a victim may raise a third degree crime to a second degree crime.
Adding Violence to a Criminal Act Elevates the Degree of the Charges
Other violent crimes against a person may not be aimed at specific individuals, but may be grossly reckless behavior showing a total disregard for the sanctity of human life. Looking at a few examples: eluding police, randomly shooting guns into traffic or occupied buildings, and setting fires in a residential area may all be instances of second degree crimes, carrying five to ten-year sentences. However, a crime like manslaughter may be elevated to a first-degree crime when aggravating circumstances exist. Aggravating circumstances show the perpetrator has an extreme disregard for others’ lives. Thus, a crime of passion is second degree manslaughter, while eluding police that results in another’s death may be first degree, elevated from second degree manslaughter.
Other violent crimes that escalate to higher degree crimes include simple assault to aggravated assault, shoplifting to robbery, and sexual assault to aggravated sexual assault. Robbery itself is a second degree crime unless someone gets injured or a weapon is involved. Then, robbery is a first degree crime. Domestic violence crimes typically carry varying sentences, depending on the underlying crime, but more severe acts of violence and those involving weapons are typically punished more harshly than offenses like harassment.
Violence Typically Lengthens Already Long Sentences
Violent gun crimes fall under the Graves Act sentencing restrictions and violent crimes like kidnapping, robbery, and sexual assault are subject to New Jersey’s No Early Release Act (NERA). Under the latter, convicted individuals must serve 85% of their prison sentence before becoming parole-eligible. The former also has mandatory minimum sentences of one-third to one-half of the total years imposed or 42 months, whichever is greater.
In general, violence enhances penalties and increases crime grades in New Jersey. It also triggers mandatory minimum sentences that keep violent defendants imprisoned longer.
What if an Act of Violence was Compelled by Self-Defense?
What if a defendant used violence to combat violence? New Jersey recognizes self-defense as a valid response, even if violent. Thus, if an individual stabbed an intruder with a gun to their head, a court may see violence as a justified response to the immediacy of life-threatening circumstances. But self-protection is only one defense available to a defendant charged with a violent crime. Others may revolve around procedural mistakes by the police in arresting, gathering evidence, and searching an individual or their vehicle. These defenses and many more may be used to contest the serious charges against you.
A Camden Lawyer Defending Violent Crimes can Help
The state of NJ is tough on violent crime offenders. As such, you are best positioned with help from a professional criminal defense lawyer to defend you against the state if you face violent crime charges. Though the penalties for your crimes are weighty, you do not know what a skilled criminal attorney can help you do in your defense without sitting down and discussing your case. Contact criminal defense attorney William C. Fay for help immediately after your arrest or the arrest of a loved one anywhere in Camden County. You may be surprised at the outlook of your case and get the clarity you need when facing one of the worst moments of your life. Free consultations are provided at 609-832-3202.
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