If a judge ordered you to pay alimony and you fail to pay it, you may be in contempt of court. More often, a spousal support order goes unpaid because someone has difficulty maintaining employment or becomes ill. But sometimes, the bitterness between divorcing spouses is destructive. As a result, the spouse ordered to pay support refuses to pay, even after a family court judge orders them to pay the support and any support arrears. A judge will typically give a spouse who violates an alimony order a chance to fulfill their obligations and will not immediately hold them in contempt of court for not paying support. But after a second or third chance, a court may find a non-paying spouse in contempt of court. Other common contempt of court situations occur when a domestic violence case defendant violates a restraining order, and disobeying a court summons is also contempt. If a judge declares you in contempt of court in New Jersey, know that the penalties for contempt of court can be harsh. They mean to punish those who intentionally violate court orders. In fact, New Jersey makes contempt of court a criminal offense.

Defining Contempt of Court Offenses

New Jersey law defines criminal contempt as willfully disobeying a court order, interfering with the execution of a judicial order, or interfering with the jurisdiction of a court, administrative agency, or investigation unit. The offense is outlined in section N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 of the criminal statutes.

To Prove Criminal Contempt,

A prosecutor must supply evidence to show that the defendant intentionally defied a valid written or oral order that they knew existed and applied to them. By not complying with the order, they are in contempt of court. In the case of interfering with the execution of an order, the prosecutor must prove that a defendant knew of the valid order and yet purposely hindered, obstructed, or impeded the implementation of a judicial order. Similarly, the prosecutor must prove the defendant knew of the court, administrative agency, or investigation unit having jurisdiction over a person or entity and yet purposely interfered with or otherwise hindered or obstructed the exercise of jurisdiction by the court, administrative agency, or investigation unit.

What is Considered Contempt of a Court Order

A defendant purposely defies an order, hinders execution of an order, or exercises of jurisdiction when they act with design or with knowledge and certainty that their actions will cause an intended result. Thus, a defendant who defies a restraining order forbidding them to contact the plaintiff may be in contempt when they intentionally text the plaintiff with full knowledge that they must not do so. Most often, contempt charges arise in the context of temporary restraining orders or final restraining orders for domestic violence or no contact orders resulting from assault cases. For example, a domestic violence incident may result in one person getting a restraining order against the other to keep them away from the victim’s home or work. Family law court orders are other familiar contempt sources for child support, asset distribution, property division, or spousal support agreements and orders. You can also be in contempt for failing to show up for a court hearing or respond to a court summons.

Other instances of contempt are misbehaving in court, disrespecting a judge during a court session, or otherwise acting disrespectfully during a court session. Thus, a person accused of crimes and facing criminal charges via summons or warrant complaint may be in contempt if they fail to appear in court for their scheduled court date. The contempt that occurs when an individual displays inappropriate behavior in court, like yelling obscenities or not following court rules, is direct contempt. The contempt happens in front of a judge. Indirect contempt occurs outside the courtroom, such as when someone defies a stay-away order, which requires testimonial proof that the contempt occurred.

Criminal Penalties for Contempt Charges

Contempt often occurs in the context of a civil case. As such, defying a support order in a family law divorce, or disobeying visitation orders or other divorce judgment orders are matters of civil contempt. A civil court could order the offending party to pay fines or make financial reparations to the victim of contempt. Alternatively, a judge can sentence a defendant convicted of contempt to jail. Though they may arise in a civil context, the consequences of defying a restraining order in a domestic violence case or any of the courts’ orders are criminal in nature. Criminal contempt, if proven, can lead to imprisonment and heavy financial penalties.

The criminal penalties for a contempt charge range depending on whether the defendant has been charged with a disorderly persons offense or fourth degree indictable crime. For a disorderly persons offense conviction, the defendant could spend up to six months in jail and pay up to $1,000.00 in fines. However, a fourth degree crime conviction could result in up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine. A judge could also order community service, license suspension, wage garnishment, and restitution payments to the victim.

What to do if You Have been Charged with Contempt in New Jersey

Since you could go to jail or prison and have a criminal conviction on your record, you should find an experienced criminal defense attorney who regularly handles contempt cases and knows how to successfully defend you in a court of law. Putting yourself in a position to be convicted is ill-advised, particularly if your contempt charges are based on an alleged violation or a protection order. If you have been charged with criminal contempt of court, speak with a dedicated criminal defense lawyer today and find out what can be done to protect your best interests. Call 973-524-7238 or request a free consultation online.

Have an Active Warrant in New Jersey?

Whenever you have a deadline to resolve a court legal matter, like paying a ticket or appearing in court for a scheduled hearing, you run the risk of daunting consequences for missing a due date. As such, if you fail to show up at your DWI trial in municipal court, a judge can execute, or sign, a warrant for your arrest from the bench, meaning in the courtroom where you were supposed to be (NJ Court Rule 7:2-3). However, the judge may execute a bench warrant for other reasons, such as failing to show up to your arraignment, committing a parole or probation violation, violating bail conditions, falling behind on child support payments, and failing to comply with a court order, which is considered contempt of court. All defaulted court obligations come with the risk of arrest by a bench warrant.

What Makes a Bench Warrant Different

A judge executes a bench warrant when you fail to show up for a scheduled court date, whether to pay fines or comply with an order. It differs from other types of warrants for arrests or searches. A court issues a summons and warrant, or arrest warrant, to arrest one indicted for a crime or after a finding of probable cause that the named defendant prepared for, or participated in, a crime. The arrest order or search and seizure order must be issued after a judge considers proof that the warrant is necessary. But law enforcement may or may not pursue a warrant for arrest right away, while a bench warrant remains ready to use when they encounter the defendant named in the warrant.

Do bench warrants expire?

The bench warrant is directed to law enforcement to arrest a defendant and remains executed until the named party is taken into custody, the judge recalls the warrant, or the defendant fulfills the conditions of the warrant. And, to motivate a defendant to come forth and take care of their outstanding fines, child support arrears, or missed court appearance, a judge commonly suspends their driver’s license also. Thus, the court notifies the defendant of their suspended license, which remains suspended until the defendant surrenders to the court or takes care of the underlying cause of the warrant. A court can, however, voluntarily reverse the driver’s license suspension for a good reason.

How can you get a bench warrant removed?

A judge may retract the bench warrant for good cause. Perhaps you did not know the order existed. You may not know that a bench warrant for your arrest exists until you encounter the police. For example, the police may stop you in your car for speeding, rolling through a stop sign, or making an illegal lane change. Once you give them your license, registration, and insurance, the officer typically runs your license through a database where outstanding warrants for your arrest appear. If you have an open order for your arrest, the police arrest you on the spot and potentially impound your car unless a passenger or other individual can drive the vehicle to your home.

Once charged, you may stay in jail until a judge releases you. So, if you fail to pay a ticket, the judge may let you go after paying the ticket. However, if you were unable to appear at a hearing, the judge can decide whether to let you go pending the rescheduled hearing with or without bail conditions or some other guarantee of your return to court on the scheduled day. If you failed to appear at a hearing because of a new mailing address, or you forgot, confused the date, had an emergency on that date, or other reasons, the court may recall the warrant and allow you to reschedule the hearing and appear.

How to avoid a bench warrant being issued if you have to miss a court date

Despite life being unpredictable and fast-paced, it is generally never a good idea to fail to appear for a scheduled court date. There are very few reasons that the court considers valid in these cases, and if you are trying to resolve your case in the best manner possible, you should virtually always show up when required. As a matter of course, it is best to advise the court prior to the hearing or at least on the day of the hearing if you must miss your court date. In that way, the court does not suspect you of flouting the law by blowing off the hearing. If you have representation, an attorney can make that call and reschedule your hearing for you for valid reasons, if possible. They can also appear for you on the scheduled date to explain to the court why you cannot appear. The court may or may not accept your excuse, but the court is not as likely to issue a bench warrant if your attorney appeared for you rather than no one appearing on that date.

What if your bench warrant is based on failure to fulfill conditions of a court order?

Your attorney may also help you get the bench warrant dismissed if you failed complete a court-ordered task or attend a hearing. At a hearing on recalling the bench warrant, your attorney can explain to the court why you missed your deadline to appear or perform a task, like pay child support. The court may ask for proof then or reschedule the hearing you missed or extend the date for you to complete whatever needs to be performed to fulfill your obligations. If you failed to pay support or are in contempt of court, the judge may give you time to file the appropriate motion in the proper court to address the underlying cause for being summoned to court. That being said, you should not expect the warrant to be lifted without you satisfying the court-ordered conditions.

Likewise, if you have a pending contempt charge based on a violation of a restraining order or another offense, you will need to defend against the underlying criminal charges in court to avoid facing a conviction and the serious penalties associated therewith. Keep in mind, violating a restraining order resulting in a contempt charge can lead to anywhere from 6 months in jail to 18 months in state prison, among other severe consequences. If you have been charged with contempt of contempt, you should immediately seek counsel from an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can protect your rights and minimize or circumvent the repercussions you now face.

What to do if you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest in Morris County and New Jersey

If you have an outstanding bench warrant, you not only risk arrest and jail, you also lose your driver’s license for a time, risk having your parole or probation revoked, and have a criminal charge on your record that may prevent you from getting a job, living where you want to live, and more. The consequences for an outstanding bench warrant may be devastating. Do not wait until you get arrested to take care of an outstanding bench warrant. And even if you do get arrested, you will need the help of a criminal defense attorney who handles bench warrants and detention hearings all the time.

Contact a seasoned criminal trial lawyer who has represented manifold clients facing warrants and criminal charges of every degree in courts across New Jersey for years. Do not defend yourself alone; seek the legal counsel of an experienced lawyer today. Call 973-524-7238 to discuss your case in a free consultation.

New Jersey’s criminal code classifies crimes by degrees and divides all crimes into indictable offenses, disorderly persons offenses, or petty disorderly persons offenses. The crime degree corresponds to the severity of the crime and its commensurate punishments. For instance, those convicted of first-degree crimes may serve a 20-year prison term and pay up to $200,000.00 in fines. Second, third, and fourth-degree crimes come with prison sentences of up to 10 years, 5 years, and 18 months, respectively. In addition to prison, indictable crimes carry high fines.

Moreover, if you commit one of the most egregious crimes, first and second-degree crimes, you can expect to serve time in prison. In other words, you are in for an uphill battle to get the prosecutor or judge to lower the sentence from prison to probation because first and second-degree crimes come with a presumption of incarceration. However, even if the state accuses you of committing a second-degree crime, your charges might be downgraded to a third-degree crime. And third-degree crimes do not come with a presumption of prison. The Superior Court prosecutor (all indictable crimes resolve in superior court) may charge you with the highest possible crime, but that does not mean you will be convicted of that crime. An experienced criminal defense attorney might get the prosecutor to agree to charge you with a lesser offense.

How do Felony and Disorderly Persons Charges get Downgraded?

Of course, your lawyer might first attempt to get the charges against you dismissed if the prosecutor’s evidence against you is weak or weakened by police misconduct that violated your constitutional rights. Police do make mistakes or take shortcuts to make an arrest. When that happens, skillful legal counsel may challenge the legality of the arrest or any evidence obtained in an illegal stop or arrest. An attorney may file a motion to suppress the evidence that the police obtained illegally, so it is not used against you to prove that you committed a specific crime. If a judge grants the motion to suppress, this may lead the court to dismiss a case or entice a prosecutor to accept a better plea bargain. Often, the prosecutor agrees to a plea for lesser charges, whereby the defendant pleads guilty to get a lighter sentence and a downgraded crime.

Reducing a Charge from an Indictable Crime to a Disorderly Persons Offense

A prosecutor may dismiss a case they cannot successfully prosecute or enter into a favorable plea agreement with the defense. Barring a dismissal, the next priority in defending a client may be to convince the prosecutor to downgrade the charges based on the same grounds, namely, holes in the prosecutor’s case. For example, a defense attorney may offer that their client’s third or fourth degree theft charge should be downgraded because the offense resulted in no damage to the victim’s property, and the items taken were valued at just over $200.00. The threshold for a petty theft crime, a disorderly persons offense, is $200.00. If the defendant has a clean criminal record, the prosecutor may agree to downgrade the crime to a lower offense. So, a defendant charged with third-degree theft of movable property may have the charge reduced from an indictable offense to a disorderly persons offense. Third degree convictions come with a possible five-year prison sentence. In contrast, petty theft results in a maximum of six months in jail and a higher probability of a first-time offender getting a conditional dismissal or probation rather than jail time.

Plea Agreements to Lesser Charges to Avoid Trial

The negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys can be complex yet creative. For a defendant charged with multiple crimes, a defense attorney may get the prosecutor to drop some charges and downgrade others in exchange for guilty pleas to crimes the prosecutor feels they can successfully prosecute. If a prosecutor believes they can win a case, they may be less inclined to bargain, but no set of facts presented to a jury is guaranteed to be successful. Prosecutors know this and so may agree to concessions in exchange for certain pleas. Trials are time-consuming, stressful efforts for all involved. When 12 jurors decide guilt or innocence, the outcome is never without risk. Jurors come to cases with their perceptions, prejudices, and experiences. Subjective factors like the attitude of either attorney or a witness may influence their decision. Even experienced prosecutors risk losing, and even with cases that seem likely to win. Thus, prosecutors often negotiate plea agreements instead of trials.

A defense attorney may persuade the prosecutor to downgrade a crime if the crime is a borderline indictable offense and disorderly persons. Other crimes, like shoplifting or drug possession, are graded by value and amount thresholds, so the prosecutor may be more inclined to downgrade them, depending on the circumstances and a defendant’s actions. A defendant who attempts to mitigate the damages of their crime, like cooperating with law enforcement, returning stolen items, or turning over drugs to the police, may induce the prosecutor to agree to a downgrade.

Preventing a Criminal Conviction through Diversion Program or Municipal Ordinance

These same considerations may result in another downgrade of sorts, the Pre-Trial Intervention Program. A first-time offender, typically charged with a third or fourth-degree crime, may avoid prison by completing the PTI program. When it comes to felony offenses, some may also result in probation, community service, or PTI alternatives, depending on the circumstances. A defendant who completes a diversionary program avoids going to jail and prevents having a criminal conviction on their record. And in municipal court, the prosecutor may agree to downgrade a disorderly persons offense to a municipal ordinance to avoid jail and the defendant having a criminal record. This is common in cases such as disorderly conduct.

Talk to a Morristown Criminal Attorney about Downgrading Your Charges

All crimes and offenses have consequences. Even beyond fines and jail time, you have a record that may hinder your future employment and housing prospects. As such, you do not want to face a prosecutor without a solid criminal defense attorney to help you reach the best outcome, considering your circumstances. You may not believe that you have a chance to avoid heavy consequences, especially if your charges include a felony crime. Still, your attorney may be able to get the charges downgraded so that the presumption of incarceration no longer applies to your conviction, and there may be facts and circumstances enabling your attorney to argue for a lesser sentence or probation. Contact a criminal defense lawyer in Morris County for advice and assurance. You can access a free consultation and speak with an experienced attorney by contacting 973-524-7238 anytime 24/7.

Child abuse is unquestionably a concern for the criminal court and any person found guilty of such an offense will be facing very serious consequences. Under New Jersey Code Title 9, specifically statute N.J.S.A. 9:6-3, any parent, guardian, or person having the care, custody or control of any child, who shall abuse, abandon, be cruel to or neglectful of any child shall be deemed to be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. Note that this particular section of the New  Jersey Code falls outside of the realm of the typical criminal statutes. The primary criminal statute that governs child abuse cases is N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4. However, the charge is not titled child abuse but rather, endangering the welfare of a child. The main thrust of the statute is to punish and guard against sexual offenses and other acts that cause harm to a child.

Notably, the first section of the statute reads that any person who has or assumed the responsibility of care over a child who engages in sexual conduct that would impair or debauch the morals of a child is guilty of a crime of the second degree. There is also a provision in the law that states that any person having a legal duty of care or assumes responsibility of care who causes the child harm that would make the child an abused or neglected child as defined by Title 9 is guilty of a crime in the second degree. You can see the connection and overlap between these two laws, both of which may apply to a child abuse or neglect case. Let’s examine the state’s child endangerment law and how it applies to parents and legal guardians who have been accused of child abuse or neglect in New Jersey. 

There are three major components to the New Jersey child endangerment law.

Legal Duty of Care

The first component is whether the person being charged had a legal duty to care for the child or assumed the responsibility of care. Legal duty of care can be established if the defendant is the minor’s natural parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, or stepparent. Assumed care is not as straightforward. The facts and circumstances of the relationship need to be thoroughly evaluated before this element of the offense can be proven. Generally, a person who supervises the child on a regular and continuing basis over extended periods of time, and engages in matters that are typically committed to the child’s parents would be deemed to have assumed the reasonability of care. For instance, a babysitter or coach tends to fall into this category. However, an individual who only assumed temporary, brief or occasional caretaking functions will probably not be fit into the statutory definition.

Sexual Conduct

The second major element of the offense is whether the defendant engaged in sexual conduct that would impair or debauch the morals of a child. The statute does not specifically define what sexual conduct is and what impairs the morals of a child means. Similarly, our case law and jury instructions do not provide much guidance either. Our courts’ decisions and jury charges provide that sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child is behavior which tends to corrupt, mar, or spoil the morals of a child. Again, the language is very vague and uninformative.

Accordingly, each case needs to be examined separately and the facts and circumstances of every event need to be scrutinized. In some cases, the alleged actions would clearly violate the statute. For example, forcing a minor to engage in intercourse or fellatio would certainly be deemed a sexual act and moreover, would unquestionably impair the morals of a child. However, there are many other circumstances where the end result is not very clear. For instance, if an angry and vengeful ex-spouse calls the police and reports that her ex-husband is bathing with their 3-year old daughter. Under our law, it is very difficult to determine if the parent would be found guilty. If the State can show that the parent engaged in some form of sexual conduct, a conviction may be warranted. However, the simple act of nudity is unlikely to secure a guilty verdict.

Harm or Risk of Harm

The third component of the endangering the welfare of a child law is the exposure of harm to the child. Like the first section of the statute, there are two major elements that must be proven by the State. First, there must be proof that the defendant was in a caretaking position and second, there was a criminal act. However, under this part of the statute, the act is not sexual in nature. Rather, the law turns to our child abuse statute found under Title 9, which, in short, defines child abuse as causing harm to a child or allowing a child to be exposed to a substantial risk of harm.

Similar to the sexual component of the statute, the child abuse section can be imprecise at times. For example, if a parent is beating their child with a belt and leaving welts across their back, such conduct is undeniably criminal and violates the statute. However, if a child is smacked across the face, some would say that such conduct is not an acceptable form of punishment but nevertheless, it may not rise to the level of criminal culpability. Another example is leaving a child unsupervised. If the child is 16-years old and is left home alone for a few hours, that should not be prosecuted. On the other hand, if the child is 10-years old, that may be sufficient for a conviction.

Penalties for Second Degree Endangering the Welfare of a Child

Endangering the welfare of a child is a more serious charge for a parent or guardian or someone else who has assumed legal responsibility for the child involved in the offense. In these situations, child endangerment is a second degree crime. If convicted, a person is faces 5 to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $150,000. Further, sexual conduct charged under the statute requires mandatory sex offender registration per the terms of Megan’s Law in New  Jersey. On top of that, these second degree felony charges are considered outside of the realm of Pre-Trial Intervention as a possible resolution to avoid prison and a conviction on your criminal record. Lastly, these charges are deemed ineligible for expungement.

Have You Been Charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child in Morris County, NJ?

The consequences of a second degree endangering the welfare of a child offense based on allegations of sexual conduct, abuse or neglect of a child for whom you have a legal responsibility can be catastrophic. Criminal charges of this kind can cause irreparable harm to your reputation, your ability to parent your children, and jeopardize your freedom for up to a decade. Clearly, this is not something to be taken lightly. If you are facing charges for endangerment, get in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney for defense in Morris County areas such as Morristown, Denville, Dover, Parsippany, Madison, Rockaway, Roxbury, and Mount Olive. For a free consultation with a lawyer who can discuss your specific case and available defense options, contact 973-524-7238 anytime.

Analyzing the Cosby Case from a Due Process Perspective

When the Me Too movement arose in 2006, the first face of the movement was Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer whom over 80 women accused of sexual assault and similar sex crimes. While he was eventually prosecuted and imprisoned, the movement’s second big-name accused was Bill Cosby, famed actor and comedian. Over 50 women came forth to announce they too were victims of sexual assault by Cosby, often after he drugged them. One such woman, Andrea Constand, a Temple University women’s basketball director of operations, first accused Cosby of sexual assault that occurred at his Pennsylvania home after drugging her. She claimed he sexually penetrated her among other sexual acts. After her public accusation, dozens more women came forth with their accusations. In 2018, a Pennsylvania jury found Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault on Constand, and he was sentenced to a minimum of three to ten years in state prison.

What Happened Next

After serving just under three years, Cosby was recently released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Prior to the ruling, Cosby’s appeal in the Superior Court was denied. In deciding to overturn the conviction, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court cited Cosby’s due process rights had been infringed upon, and thus, the conviction was unconstitutional.

The Basis of the Decision

The decision hinged on an announcement by former Pennsylvania prosecutor Bruce L. Castor, Jr. Castor, which stated that the state would not prosecute Cosby for sexual assault in the Constand case. Castor later asserted that his statement was meant to induce Cosby to speak freely in the civil matter. Believing he would not be criminally prosecuted, Cosby later made self-incriminating statements about drugging women for sex during a sworn deposition in the civil case that Constand brought against him. The civil suit was later settled without going to a trial. Subsequently, before the 12-year statute of limitations on Constand’s case was up, the successor prosecutor to Castor brought charges against Cosby, which led to his conviction.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges stated that the former prosecutor’s “non-prosecution agreement” barred the successor prosecutor from bringing charges against Cosby in the Constand case. They further stated that the case could not be retried—the reason for the decision hinged on Cosby’s Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination. The Fifth Amendment protects an accused individual against forced self-incrimination, affords an accused the right to due process, and protects citizens from being tried twice for the same crime, known as double jeopardy. The Amendment assures that those accused of a crime have due process, meaning they are treated fairly and not forced or tricked to confess statements that could be used as evidence against them. It pertains to fair policing and prosecution practices, especially to preserve the integrity of the judicial system.

Essentially, when Cosby was assured he would not be prosecuted, he incriminated himself on record in a civil suit, and this incriminating evidence was used to prosecute him criminally. Such factual circumstances could be perceived as deceptive practices by the prosecution. In fact, the Supreme Court judges stated in their written opinion that it is fundamentally unfair to induce a defendant to rely on a prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute and then turn around and prosecute him after he gave up his Fifth Amendment right in order to settle a civil suit. Once that evidence from the civil suit was used against him in a criminal trial, the prosecution violated his right to assert his protections against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

This reasoning also applies to explicitly stated assurances by the prosecution during plea negotiations and discussions pertaining to the plea agreements in criminal cases. Plea agreements are typically made between prosecutors and defendants to obtain a guilty plea or immunity against prosecution in exchange for testimony against another defendant. Courts have repeatedly found that defendants should be able to rely upon statements by the prosecution during these proceedings in order to make conscious, reasoned decisions in their interests.

What the Court’s Reversal Affirms about Due Process Rights in Criminal Cases

Much of the public views Cosby’s release as a travesty, given the overwhelming number of accusations and evidence presented in the case against him, and yet the Pennsylvania Supreme Court faced a tough decision in this case. The decision to reverse Cosby’s conviction sparked heated debate that would cause many engaged in the public discourse to claim a mere technicality allowed a criminal to go free. However, had the court ignored Cosby’s argument and confirmed the conviction, the court may have been perceived as endorsing prosecutors who dupe defendants into giving up their constitutional rights, only to later convict them. The decision weighed the integrity of the judicial system and the Constitution against the singular case of releasing a man convicted by a jury. And so, the decision enforces due process rights of the accused by reinforcing the rules by which prosecutors must obtain convictions.

Had Cosby’s attorneys not persisted and understood the intricacies of the law, he would still be imprisoned serving out his three to ten years. Because he is a celebrity, politics and public opinion gloss over the subtleties of the law, the judicial system, and the Constitution. However, ordinary citizens face similar travesties of justice, with overreaching prosecutors that succeed in convicting those who do not belong in prison, technicality or not. Some prosecutors believe their job is to secure convictions, but that is only one part of their role in the criminal process. They are also representatives of the judicial system and the law. Criminal defense attorneys also protect, not only those accused of crimes, but the entire judicial system when they insist that the agents of the state follow the law.

Contact a New Jersey Defense Lawyer for Help Protecting Your Rights

No matter who you are, you have a right to a fair trial and due process. An experienced criminal defense lawyer, who is wise to what the prosecutors and judges must do to protect your rights and what they must not do, is there to ensure that you are not unjustly prosecuted or imprisoned. If you are accused of any crime in the state of New Jersey, be sure to reach out to discuss your case with a New Jersey criminal defense attorney on our team in a free consultation. We can make sure your rights are preserved. Call 973-524-7238 today for answers and legal assistance.

Morristown DWI Defense Attorney

All of the sudden bright lights are flashing from behind and you have to pull over. Thoughts are racing through your head: “I’m only five minutes away from home,” “It was only a few beers,” and “I look fine.” The officer approaches your vehicle and shines a bright light inside and asks: “Have you been drinking?” “Why are you so nervous?” “Do you know why you are being pulled over?” Whatever may have initially prompted the officer’s attention has now shifted focus on whether you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is just the start of what sounds like a long night for you.

What to Expect when You are Suspected of Driving while Intoxicated in Morristown

A common next step will likely include field sobriety testing and can assist an officer in making an arrest determination. The most common field sobriety tests include: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the Walk and Turn, the One-Leg Stand tests. These tests are supposed to be administered in a structured, formal manner in order to be considered objective and reliable indicators of a driver’s impairment. Field tests in connection to a driver’s blood alcohol concentration level are determinants of a driver being under the influence. To begin the process of determining if a person is under the influence of alcohol, an officer may use portable breath testing to aide in deciding to charge a person with DWI.

If the officer finds probable cause (i.e. the indication that you are under the influence of alcohol), then you will be placed under arrest and taken back to the police station. From there you will be asked to take another breath test. In taking this test, there are specific procedures that must be completed. For one, the defendant must be observed for a minimum of 20 minutes prior to being administered the test. This period of observation is used to safeguard the defendant to ensure he or she has not regurgitated, eaten, etc., which will alter the results of the test. The waiting period may be restarted, however, if there are any disruptions or incidents that could impact the test. For example, burping, drinking, chewing gum, eating food, vomiting, consuming breath mints, or taking medications, could impact the results of the test. Thus, if one does any of the previously mentioned activities then the observation period must be restarted. Following this waiting period, then the officer can begin the testing.

The officer is expected to administer the breath test in four extremely specific timed intervals to ensure the accuracy of the testing sample. This is done by administering the test four separate times, spaced out in two-minute intervals. Separating the test out in this way allows for the machine to go through the process of ridding the prior sample collected. In doing so, the lowest of the four samples is the number used to denote a defendant’s breath test results. Moreover, there are very explicit operating standards and administration protocols that must occur. If proper protocols are not followed, then you may be able to have the results suppressed. Any missteps in the above testing can be used as a viable defense for your DWI matter later on in court.

The purpose of the breath test is to determine how much alcohol is in the air that you breathe out, which in turn estimates your blood alcohol level. In the State of New Jersey, a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% indicates that a person is guilty of DWI.

If you are charged with a DWI, there are a lot of factors that will determine your BAC. Specifically, your body weight, how much alcohol was consumed and the timeframe it was consumed in, the altitude, whether food was in your stomach, your gender, the size of a drink, if mixers were used, and medications taken can all severely impact someone’s blood alcohol concentration levels. Interestingly, gender can impact one’s BAC because females have more hormones and less enzymes that break down the ability to process alcohol, compared to males.

Depending on the amount of alcohol consumed and the time you drank it, your body may begin something comparable to a “shut-down” process. As a result, there is cognitive impairment with lessened motor functioning. That is why many officers look for swerving on the road, slurring speech, driver’s acting erratic and/or belligerent, or exhibiting physical symptoms like blood shot eyes and more during a traffic stop.

If you decide not to have the breath testing done, you may be charged with a DWI refusal offense.

Being a licensed driver in the State of New Jersey implies that you agree to provide a breath sample. As a result, refusals carry substantial penalties that continue to grow more and more with each offense. You may also be asked to provide blood testing for a variety of reasons as well. Particularly, if you are physically unable to provide a breath test or if it is believed that you may also be under the influence of drugs. In that same vein, you may also be asked to provide a urine test. Again, this is usually for the purpose of determining if you are under the influence of drugs. Overall, these laboratory results will be provided within a few months after the samples are received and processed.

Morristown DWI Cases are usually handled in Morristown Municipal Court.

If you have been arrested for DWI in Morristown, your case will likely be heard at the Morristown Municipal Court located at 200 South Street, 1st Floor, Morristown, New Jersey, 07960. You will be issued tickets on the day of your arrest relating to your alleged DWI, which will list the date for your first appearance in Morristown Municipal Court.

In order to be convicted of a DWI, the State will use the evidence gathered against you on the date of your arrest to demonstrate that you have been under the influence of alcohol. This is part of the discovery package that will be made available to you later on. Whether you are getting off the main highway of I-287 or routes 202, 124, or 510, your actions during the stop will be a strong indicator about your ability to operate a motor vehicle. The evidence in your discovery package may also provide issues that can be raised by an experienced DWI defense lawyer who knows how to find inconsistencies and mistakes, and use them to have evidence suppressed and possibly get the charges dismissed.

Has a DWI Charge happened to you in Morristown, NJ?

Contingent upon how many times you have been charged and subsequently convicted of DWI, this will determine the consequences and penalties you will face. It is important to hire an attorney to assist you with a DWI in Morristown because a lot is at stake in terms of employment, your ability to maintain driving privileges, fines/penalties and even potentially jail time. To talk to an experienced Morristown DWI lawyer who can advise you further, contact us today for a complimentary consultation.

If you have ever wondered how someone that steals a piece of fruit from the grocery store does not face ten years in prison or if someone convicted of homicide does not face 6 months in jail, it all comes down to the way an offense is graded. Grading occurs by degree of severity. The more severe an offense is, the penalties involved become that much more serious. In addition, although it is wrong to steal something, it would not serve the interests of justice to be ten years in prison for something that is worth 85 cents. As such, the degree of the offense often correlates with the underlying allegations involved.

In order to know the degree of an offense in New Jersey, it is critical to understand what an offense is. The word offense in New Jersey is two-fold and can be used interchangeably. Oftentimes, the word offense refers to a crime, felony or indictable charge. A crime in the State of New Jersey is an act contrary to a statute that, if convicted, holds a sentence beyond six months. Crimes are the most serious offenses because the risk of jail or prison is most severe with gross financial penalties involved. Crimes are designated as first, second, third or fourth degree.

Important Terminology for Determining the Severity of a Criminal Offense in New Jersey

  • First Degree Crime: Being convicted of a first-degree offense will result in the most extreme sentence. First degree crimes can include certain sex offenses involving children, kidnapping, criminal homicide, aggravated criminal sexual assault, arson, drug distribution, and more. Crimes of the first degree generally carry a term of imprisonment between 10 and 20 years with a fine up to $200,000.
  • Second Degree Crime: Second-degree crimes can lead to a maximum of 10 years in prison with a fine up to $150,000. There are many different crimes that are second degree, however, the most common are unlawful possession of a firearm, aggravated assault, certain shoplifting offenses, certain drug offenses, possession of weapons with an unlawful purpose, etc.
  • Third Degree Crime: A fine up to $15,000 and a prison term up to 5 years are the penalties for a third degree crime in New Jersey. Frequently, drug offenses, terroristic threats, possession of certain weapons like BB guns, eluding, and many other offenses can constitute third degree crimes in New Jersey.
  • Fourth Degree Crime: Possession of Hollow Nose ammunition, drug distribution and possession charges, and shoplifting may be graded as fourth degree indictable offenses. Commonly individuals face up to 18 months incarceration with fines stretching up to $10,000.
  • Extended Term of Imprisonment: An individual who has been convicted of a crime of the first, second or third degree may face an extended term of imprisonment if he or she meets particular criteria. Specifically, if the person is a persistent offender, a professional criminal, or if the individual has been convicted of a certain offense are most commonly the reasons an extended term may be imposed.
  • Presumption of Non-Incarceration: Once an individual is convicted of certain third or fourth degree offenses, it is presumed that the offender will not be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
  • No Early Release Act: Pursuant to the No Early Release Act, individuals convicted of certain crimes must complete 85% of one’s sentence before parole eligibility.

Superior Courts have the jurisdiction to hear crimes or indictable offenses. If you have been convicted of a crime by either being found guilty or entering a plea of guilty to a particular crime, you will have a sentencing hearing after being convicted of the offense.

Factors the Court Considers for Sentencing in Morris County NJ

To determine an offender’s appropriate sentence, the Court considers enumerated aggravating and mitigating factors defined under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1. In addition to the statutory factors, the Court is also guided by the sentencing presumptions listed under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(d) & (e). Moreover, a custodial term may be imposed if the Court finds that imprisonment is essential to protect the public. To make such a determination, the Court looks at the nature and circumstances of the offense together with the history, character and condition of the defendant. Further, the Court also may evaluate the aggravating factors set forth under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(a).

What does it mean to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors?

In order for an individual to be sentenced by the Court, the State and defense may argue that an offender should be given a particular sentence. In doing so, the parties put forth on the record reasons the Court may find in support of and in opposition of a particular sentence. For example, aggravating factors may include: the nature and circumstances of the offense, the role of the actor therein, including whether or not the offense was committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner; the risk that the defendant will commit another offense; the need for deterring the defendant and others from violating the law, and more.

Oppositely, mitigating factors may include: the defendant having no history of prior delinquency or criminal activity or has led a law-abiding life for a substantial period of time before the commission of the present offense; the defendant’s conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur; the character and attitude of the defendant indicate that he or she is unlikely to commit another offense; the imprisonment of the defendant would entail excessive hardship to his or her dependents; etc.

What if my charge does not have a degree and it says something else on my complaint?

If a complaint indicates that you are being charged with a disorderly persons offense or a petty disorderly persons offense that means you are looking at misdemeanor level charges. Picking up from where we left off earlier about the term offense having two meanings, this term is also used to refer to low-level charges as well. Municipal Courts have the authority to hear lower-level cases (and traffic offenses) because the financial penalties and jail time involved are not as severe as felony offenses. Lower-level offenses are disorderly persons or a petty disorderly persons offenses. In fact, these offenses have the least exposure among all criminal violations of New Jersey laws. Notably, despite their minimum penalties, an individual will have a criminal record once convicted of either misdemeanor or felony offenses.

What if I’m charged with multiple crimes of varying degrees?

Being charged with multiple crimes can expose you to a great deal of upheaval in your life because of the amount of prison time and financial penalties involved. In other words, each charge carries its own set of penalties and fines. For example, if you have been charged with second degree unlawful possession of a weapon AND possession of a weapon with an unlawful purpose then your maximum exposure from these charges alone are $300,000 and twenty years in prison. Similarly, if you are charged with simple assault, a disorderly persons offense, which is a case that could be in the Municipal Court, but you also have a third degree eluding charge, then your entire case may be disposed of at the County Superior Court due to the level and severity of the other charges involved. Ways to avoid such a severe sentence may be to enter a negotiated plea, build a strong defense refuting the charges or entering a diversionary program, if applicable to your case.

It is important to speak with an attorney to handle your felony or misdemeanor offenses because convictions can severely impact your future through housing, employment and much more. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney with offices in Morristown, New Jersey today for a complimentary consultation.

In a typical drug or criminal case in New Jersey, the first thing that must be determined is whether the charge is for a disorderly persons offense or a more serious felony-level offense. A disorderly persons offense tends to apply to less serious drug charges like possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). These cases are handled in the local municipal court of the city or town where the offense allegedly occurred. In New Jersey, drug cases are heard in either municipal court or superior court. Drug charges in the municipal court typically involve lesser offenses. More serious drug crimes are handled in the county superior court. Since the prosecutor must first obtain an indictment from a grand jury a trial can occur, these are known as “indictable offenses.” In essence, a crime of any degree is a felony or indictable offense.

When a drug case is heard at the municipal court level, there is no jury. A judge will listen to parties in the case, determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty, and then possibly issue a sentence that could involve jail time. By contrast, a superior court drug case happens with a trial by jury, and the possible penalties include prison time. In some superior court drug cases involving drug trafficking charges or drug distribution charges, the defendant could be subject to a mandatory prison sentence if convicted.

What Drug Charges You can get in New Jersey

Narcotics are regulated in New Jersey according to “drug schedules” set forth in the NJ Controlled Dangerous Substances Act. This law specifically regulates the use, sale, prescribing, handling, and labeling of any drug or controlled dangerous substance (CDS) that may have the potential for abuse. Keep in mind that this applies to both legal and illegal drugs, so even a medication such as cough syrup is covered by the statute. In the majority of instances, the more dangerous the drug, the closer to zero its schedule. For example, heroin is classified as a Schedule I CDS, while cough syrup with codeine is a Schedule V CDS. Drugs classified in Schedule I, II, or III typically carry stricter regulations on use and more severe penalties for anyone found to be violating the law. Some of the most common drug charges in New Jersey include the following:

  • Marijuana Distribution
  • Cocaine Possession and Distribution
  • Heroin Possession and Distribution
  • Prescription Drug Offenses
  • Drug Paraphernalia Possession
  • School Zone Drug Offenses
  • Public Park Drug Offenses

As one might expect, the penalties for a drug distribution offense tend to be more severe than the penalties for a drug possession offense. However, it is worth noting that a person can be charged with a distribution offense even if they did not actually sell drugs. This is because the NJ criminal code also prohibits something known as “possession with intent to distribute.” What exactly does this mean? If a person is found by law enforcement with a heavy weight of illegal drugs or a high number of prescription pills, then authorities can infer that the drugs are not for personal use. Instead, the assumption will be that the individual planned to sell the drugs, which would constitute illegal drug distribution. Since the penalties for intent to distribute are indistinguishable from the penalties for actual distribution, you may face significant prison time if convicted.

School Zone Drug Offenses

The standard penalties for drug crimes in New Jersey are already pretty harsh, but they can be even harsher when the drug offense was committed by someone in a school zone or public park. The drug crime laws allow for enhanced penalties in these instances, and judges often impose the maximum allowable prison sentences as a way to discourage future offenders who might think twice before exposing young children to drugs. The law against school zone drug violations in NJ imposes a minimum mandatory term of incarceration for anyone who is convicted of distributing drugs in a protected area.

If you have been accused of selling a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in a school building, on a school bus, or anywhere else in a school zone, contact a knowledgeable attorney immediately. Not only could a conviction expose you to significant prison time for the underlying drug distribution offense, but the fact that it occurred within a protected school zone could expose you to additional prison time. Specifically, the judge can sentence you to an extra three (3) years in prison for selling cocaine or heroin, and at least one (1) extra year for selling marijuana or prescription drugs.

Distributing and Intent to Sell Drugs Near Public Property

The law against public park drug violations in NJ also imposes a minimum mandatory prison sentence for any individual who is convicted of distributing drugs in or near a public space. The statute covers not just public parks, but also public housing facilities for low-income residents and other government-owned buildings. Additionally, the law includes the area around the public space and covers a 500-foot radius surrounding the area. Basically, the statute allows for upgraded charges and enhanced penalties because all public park drug distribution offenses are classified as second degree felonies, regardless of the type of drug or weight, unless the drug in question is marijuana. This means that all it takes is a small amount of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or prescription drugs to expose you to up to 10 years in prison under the enhanced charges for public park drug distribution offenses.

What If It’s My First Time Being Charged with a Criminal Offense?

Although most drug offenses in New Jersey carry harsh punishments, some first-time offenders are able to avoid jail. This is made possible when the defendant secures admission into a diversionary program like Pretrial Intervention (PTI) or an alternative sentencing option like Drug Court. PTI is only available in certain drug cases that involve a defendant with no prior convictions. This applies as well to low-level drug cases in municipal court with a program called conditional discharge. If you are admitted into one of these special programs, the court will sentence you to probation and drug treatment/rehabilitation instead of prison. The focus of these programs is on recovery instead of punishment, which is why the defendant is typically required to attend drug counseling, take frequent drug tests, and generally stay out of trouble during their probationary period. Upon completion of these requirements, the drug charge is dismissed, and the defendant is free to move forward with their life without a drug crime conviction appearing on their criminal record.

Possible Defenses Available in New Jersey Drug Cases

These are some of the most common defenses in New Jersey drug cases:

  • Illegal search by police. Before conducting a search of you or your property, police must have (a) a search warrant, (b) your consent for a search, (c) clear view of drugs in plain sight, (d) probable cause to believe there are drugs present or evidence of a crime, or (e) a reasonable belief that exigent circumstances require an immediate search of the premises.
  • Issues with chain of custody for evidence. After police find evidence of drugs, they must take careful steps to ensure that the evidence is properly handled and documented every step of the way. For example, there must be clear documentation when the evidence is transferred from police to a lab for testing and then to the prosecutor.
  • No evidence of drugs. It may be hard to believe, but it’s actually possible for police to seize a harmless substance that they mistake for illegal drugs. Your attorney can make sure that any lab tests show that the evidence seized in your case was not a controlled dangerous substance.
  • Drug weight error. NJ drug charges typically carry more severe penalties when the drug amounts or weights are higher. A mistake by law enforcement when weighing the drug evidence in your case could lead to the prosecutor incorrectly filing more serious charges against you.
  • Violation of your Fifth Amendment rights. Police must advise you of your constitutional right against self-incrimination before they subject you to formal questioning. They can ask you about the drugs in your possession during a traffic stop or other interaction, but you do not have to answer. You should also contact an attorney before subjecting yourself to any questions at the police station, as anything you say can be used to prosecute you.

The best way to identify and raise defenses in your drug possession or distribution case is to have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney representing you.

Get Morris County Defense Lawyer Help with Your Drug Case

The punishments for drug charges make it critically important for you to have a skilled criminal defense lawyer handling your drug case. An experienced attorney may be able to get your drug charges downgraded to a lesser offense, which means that the case would be transferred from superior court to municipal court, or reduced from a disorderly persons offense to a municipal ordinance violation, both of which ultimately mean you would no longer face more severe penalties.

It also might be possible for your attorney to secure your admission into a diversionary program or obtain an alternative sentence that protects your future and your freedom to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, an effective defense argument can allow you to avoid conviction entirely. What it takes is a thorough analysis, knowledge of the court rules and procedures, a solid handle on defense strategies, and a commitment to fighting for you. Contact an experienced criminal attorney now to challenge the drug charges you face in Morris County or anywhere in New Jersey.

Criminal Charges for Loitering or Wandering in a Drug Zone

Can you be charged with an offense for something that you technically have not done? That can certainly be the case for offenses involving loitering or wandering in a drug zone, technically referred to as Loitering to Obtain or Distribute CDS, in New Jersey. Loitering refers to a person hanging around a public place. Wandering, on the other hand, refers to a person roaming around with no purpose. It is interesting how by definition the term wandering means not having a purpose, but in the context of the statutory authority for wandering or loitering in a drug zone, an individual is found to wander or meander in a public space with the purpose to acquire or disseminate drugs.

Despite this unique play on the word: purpose, an individual facing an offense contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C: 33-2.1 is being charged with having purpose or intent to commit an offense in a location with increased drug activity.

What is Required to Prove a 2C: 33-2.1 Loitering Charge

If we go back to the original question for a moment, how can you be charged with an offense for something that you have not done? With this type of offense, the circumstances of the underlying incident and the purpose to buy or sell drugs is enough for someone to fall as a perpetrator of this wrongdoing. The statute defines behaviors where the element of purpose can be found. For example, let’s say that you frequent a park weekly and just hang around there for a few hours between 11:00pm and 2:00am. During that time you engage in behavior by walking up to individuals who are also in the park or you walk up to motor vehicles driving through the park. This conduct could be used to prove that you engaged in the type of behavior in accordance with a violation of this statute. However, in order to be found guilty of this offense, a person must have remained or wandered in a public place, with the purpose to distribute or maintain drugs while actively engaging in conduct that demonstrates purpose. To understand the concept of manifesting a purpose, the case State v. Kazanes shows how an officer witnessed a drug transaction being purposeful. In this case, despite the element of wandering not properly being met, the element of purpose was evident because of the drug packaging and the residue of the drug on the defendant’s mouth after swallowing the evidence. Thus, the underlying circumstances represent the sale and/or purchase of the drugs that would indicate the element of purpose under this statute.

A Prosecutor may refer to tangible items to prove that you were wandering or meandering in a public space with the purpose to buy or sell drugs. These items may include having a lot of cash on one’s person, or even drugs/drug paraphernalia with you at the time of the arrest. As a whole, the circumstances surrounding the underlying event are used to determine whether there is enough evidence involved to give rise to a charge of this nature. Accordingly, the circumstances surrounding your case are extremely important.

Disorderly Persons Loitering, Wandering Drug Offense Penalties in NJ

If you are charged with an offense of this nature, then you are facing disorderly persons charges. Although disorderly persons offenses are the lowest level criminal offenses in New Jersey, it is still something you do not want on your record. For this offense alone, an individual may be subjected up to six months in jail and up to $1000 fine.

Moreover, you may also have additional charges corresponding with your loitering in a drug zone offense. Particularly, you may be looking at drug possession or distribution charges, drug paraphernalia charges and more. In fact, depending on the type of offense you can be facing multiple felony offenses. These additional charges will carry significant penalties, fines and serious prison time. Just distribution of CDS alone can give you a minimum five-year ticket to prison and then depending on the amount on you can bring you to potentially 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands worth of fines.

How can a loitering in a drug zone charge merge with a distributing or possession with intent to distribute CDS charge?

If you are found actively engaged in purposeful activity that would indicate the buying and selling of drugs, such as frequently approaching drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and passing something to each of them, and once approached by police you are found with drugs and the other party has a large sum of cash, you have met the elements of the loitering offense but also distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. The type of punishments for the distribution offense will vary depending on the type of drug(s), the quantity of the drug(s), and location of the transaction. Police can establish the probable cause element of charging you with this offense through using informants, undercover officers or even by witnessing the transaction to establish that you intended the sale of a controlled dangerous substance. Again, the underlying surrounding circumstances will be used for an officer to charge you with a crime. This may also mean that circumstantial evidence will be sufficient to charge you with one or more of the above crimes.

What is circumstantial evidence for a criminal case?

Circumstantial evidence means that one could infer based on mere circumstances alone that a person committed a crime. In other words, it can be referred to as evidence to prove a fact or truth asserted. In criminal law case this may mean that a witness did not see the defendant stab a person, but saw blood on his or her hands and a bloody knife at the defendant’s home. In the earlier examples, it may be the drug residue, a lot of money or packages used to place the drugs in.

In law school, a simple example of this principle is in torts, or personal injury cases, to establish negligence through the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. When someone slips and falls on a banana peel in a grocery store, the condition of the peel itself can be used to prove negligence by looking at the color of the banana peel. The color indicates how long it has been on the floor in showing the store was negligent in the upkeep of the area. This can be considered circumstantial evidence because you do not need direct evidence to prove the wrong based on the color of the peel alone, indicating it had been on the floor for a long time. Of course, this would have to be the color at the time of the fall, not hours later.

How to Handle Loitering Drug Charges in Morris County and throughout New Jersey

Are you facing loitering in a drug zone charges or more drug crimes? Do you think your case is ground on consequential evidence at best? Contact a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney now for a complimentary consultation to discuss your case, to see what options are available to you and find out if and how you can avoid jail or prison time through defense arguments, diversionary programs, downgrading the charges, and other strategies.

If you drive drunk, you do not want to get stopped by law enforcement on federal property. You will most likely end up in federal court rather than the local municipal court for a traffic offense. That could be bad news for you. Once you are in the federal criminal system, you could be up against notoriously tough prosecutors and laws. For that reason, a criminal defense attorney with extensive federal court experience is a must when you have been charged with a crime on federal property in New Jersey. You need a strong advocate who knows how to deal with stringent laws and prosecutors who have the upper hand, someone who is familiar with both state and federal laws, rules, and systems.

The state and federal systems overlap in some areas, for instance, when a state law is violated on federal property. As a defendant charged with a state law violation, you will probably be tried in federal court using either state or federal law and federal rules and procedures. Because federal law is more stringent, you may need to present strong evidence to challenge the charges and be acquitted of the crime. Fines are typically higher in federal court too, compared to state court, and federal prison sentences are longer and harsher than state sentences.

Why are Charges Worse when on Federal Land in NJ?

One reason the punishment is tougher for crimes committed on federal property may be that federal lands contain dangerous or protected items that would cause harm to the federal government if trespassed, such as buildings that contain confidential files or dangerous chemicals sitting in underground storage. Drunk driving on federal property constitutes just such a threat to federal property, but other crimes too, like trespassing, vandalism, and reckless driving. Likewise, crimes committed on military forts and bases, government buildings or parking lots, national parks and forests, airports and courthouses lead to federal charges, whether the crime is a state violation or a specific federal law violation, and the stricter penalties reflect the necessity to protect federal property. However, any crime that can be committed on state property can be committed on federal property, like theft, lewdness, obstruction of law, criminal mischief, terroristic threats, drug distribution or possession, or DWI/DUI for operating a motor vehicle or vessel while under the influence.

Charged with DWI on Federal Property in New Jersey

When an officer stops you for drunk driving on federal property, such as at a federal park, in a national forest, or on a military base, like McGuire Air Force Base, you may be charged under federal laws for breaking state laws against offenses like DUI. Since there is no drunk driving federal law, the state law is “assimilated,” by the Federal Assimilative Crimes Act, or made part of the federal law, and you are charged for a federal crime. So, what would have been a traffic infraction on non-federal property is an offense on federal property, with a harsher sentence.

For example, if you were caught driving while intoxicated in a national park, such as Sandy Hook National Park, or a military base like McGuire Air Force Base, or another eligible location such as Picatinny Arsenal, you may be subject to federal prosecution as opposed to typical state prosecution. If the offense does not exist explicitly according to existing federal law, the case will be determined by state law as assimilated into federal law. A DUI in a national park may lead to a sentence of six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.00. In contrast, state sentences typically do not include jail time for first DWI offenses but could result in up to 30 days in county jail, just to lend some perspective on how severe federal sentences are compared to state sentences. And if your DUI occurred on a military base, you may face additional military charges on top of the federal and state charges. It makes a difference whether federal or state law determines your outcome.

Laws Governing Federal Crimes in NJ

The laws that govern federal cases are United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations, which define federal crimes. Federal Agencies, however, have their own sets of laws that define certain crimes. The Justice Department, for instance, handles federal cases, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigate crimes committed on federal property or any federal crime. The United States Attorney’s office prosecutes federal crimes, following the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence. Federal crimes are not limited to agency rules and laws, however. They are also those committed on specific places designated as U.S. territories or on certain bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, or airspace over the high seas, or any other places outside national borders or pertaining to aircraft, like crimes in an airplane flying over U.S. territory.

Who Hears Federal Cases when they Happen in Morris County?

Federal cases are heard by federal judges or magistrates of the United States District Courts. However, the U.S. military handles court martials in military courts. Magistrates handle petty offenses, those with maximum fines of $5,000.00 and a maximum prison sentence of six months, though they may have federal misdemeanors delegated to them from federal judges with the defendant’s consent. Federal misdemeanors carry prison sentences up to a year and fines of up to $250,000.00, and magistrates preside over petty offenses or misdemeanor cases in various locations, not just where federal judges in Trenton, Camden, and Newark usually hear cases.

Common Criminal & DUI Offenses on Federal Property

You may be charged and prosecuted in New Jersey after a specific federal department has gathered evidence. The federal law enforcement departments at Fort Dix, Fort Monmouth, Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook and Fort Hancock, and the United States Park Service, Picatinny Arsenal, Naval Weapons Station Earle, and Lakehurst Naval Air Station may be the source of the criminal complaint against you, depending upon where you were caught committing a crime on federal property. Essentially, DWI/DUI, refusal charges, traffic offenses, and other state criminal charges, become federal crimes just by where they are committed. And Title 18, section 13 of the U.S. Code covers crimes occurring within a state but on federal property. As previously mentioned, the laws of the state crimes and their interpretations are used in these cases.

Federal courts typically handle federal crimes, like drug, immigration, fraud, trafficking, money laundering, weapons, conspiracy, kidnapping across state lines, bank robbery crimes, organized crime (RICO statutes), white collar crimes, as well as those committed against federal employees or on federal property. Crimes on government property, such as bank fraud, bank robbery, conspiracy cases, counterfeiting, bribery of public official, computer crimes, Homeland Security Offenses, offenses related to interstate commerce, violent crimes, internet crimes, interstate crimes, pornography, and drug smuggling are prosecuted as federal crimes. When sentencing a defendant for any of these and other federal and state crimes, judges and prosecutors consider the nature of the offense, circumstances of the offense, criminal history, deterrence, respect for the law, public protection, rehabilitation of the defendant, sentence guidelines, and judicial consistency.

Consult a Defense Lawyer in Morristown if You Have been Arrested on Federal Lands

Whether you have allegedly committed a state or federal crime on federal property, you are going to need a good attorney to show that your history and good standing as a citizen, as well as your respect for the law, qualifies you for a lighter sentence, at the very least. The federal government is better resourced than state courts, so prosecutors can take cases to trial rather than plea bargain. In addition, the rules of procedure in federal court are skewed toward the prosecution with bail and pre-trial release much more difficult than in state court. Federal prosecutors are not as overworked so they can spend more time and be tougher on your case, so enlisting help from a highly skilled NJ federal court defense attorney to assist you with your case is absolutely advisable. A knowledgeable federal charge lawyer can often ensure that you are dealt with fairly in federal court and possibly prove to the prosecutor and judge that you did not commit the crime charged or deserve a lighter sentence. And if the circumstances call for negotiation with the prosecution, your attorney can help you negotiate a plea bargain to avoid trial and the worst case scenario. Receive a free consultation by contacting us today.