Have you ever wondered how a prison sentence is determined? Most of us know that a jury convicts a person and then a judge decides how much (if any) jail time the person will get. However, what rules are at play? Can the judge arbitrarily decide?
What are the Sentencing Guidelines?
The answer is that a judge is never permitted to arbitrarily decide how long you can be put behind bars.
A judge must use New Jersey’s Sentencing Guidelines in order to properly determine how long you can be jailed or imprisoned for. Put simply, NJ’s Sentencing Guidelines are rules contained in statutory provisions (viz. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-1-22) that set up a specific framework that a judge is required to operate in when it comes to determining prison sentences.
How Do NJ’s Sentencing Guidelines Work?
The Sentencing Guidelines subdivide crimes into several categories based on their severity. According to N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(e), many third and most fourth degree crimes (as well as disorderly persons offenses such as vandalism ) have a presumption of non-incarceration.
This means that a judge will not put you behind bars for certain offenses unless he determines that imprisonment is necessary for the protection of the public after considering the nature and circumstances of the offense as well as your history, character, and condition.
However, when it comes to first and second degree crimes, there is a presumption of incarceration. In other words, a judge is going to put you in prison unless it “would be a serious injustice which overrides the need to deter such conduct by others” [see N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(d)]. Nevertheless, this exception to the presumption of imprisonment for first and second degree crimes is rarely used. In fact, case law demands it be used only in extraordinary and unanticipated circumstances.
In New Jersey, crimes can be broken down into three main categories of offenses. First there are the most serious offenses which are considered “crimes” in New Jersey, also known as degree crimes or felonies. Degree crimes are handled in New Jersey’s Superior Courts unless the charge gets downgraded and brought to a municipal court in the town or city where there offense happened.
What Sentence Can Be Imposed If I Am Being Charged With A Felony Crime?
Each of the following felony crimes will result in a criminal record.
First Degree Crimes – First degree crimes require a mandatory jail sentence be imposed. For a first degree charge a person can be sentenced to jail anywhere from 10 to 20 years in New Jersey.
Second Degree Crimes – Second degree crimes require a mandatory jail sentence be imposed. For a second degree charge a person can be sentence to jail anywhere from 5 to 10 years in New Jersey.
Third Degree Crimes – Third degree crimes do not require a mandatory jail sentence and allow alternate options such as probation. The judge will have discretion on whether to forgo a jail sentence. For a third degree conviction the crime is punishable between 4 to 5 years in New Jersey.
Fourth Degree Crimes – Fourth degree crimes do not require a mandatory jail sentence and allow alternate options such as probation. The judge will have discretion on whether to forgo a jail sentence. For a fourth degree conviction a jail sentence between 1-1½ years in New Jersey.
What Is A Strict Liability Offense?
Strict liability refers to punishing an individual regardless of the intent which the person had when coming the crime. In general crimes require a certain level of criminal intent or a guilty mind to cause the offense. Strict liability offenses will hold an individual responsible regardless of intent.
For example the statutory rape law in New Jersey makes it illegal for anyone to have sex with a minor. This is a strict liability offense even when the offender does not know that the individual was a minor they still are held responsible for the offense. Honest mistake will not be considered and even if a minor consents this will not save the offender from being found guilty.
Other examples of strict liability offenses include selling alcohol to a minor and traffic violation offenses such as speeding tickets.
Does The Judge Consider Any Other Factors While Imposing A Sentence?
Generally when a judge is considering sentencing an individual they take the middle number in the sentence range which is imposed and begin to weigh what are known as aggravating and mitigating factors. A judge carefully analyzes the facts of the case and if he finds aggravating factors are present such as a weapon was used or someone was injured than the judge will impose a higher sentence.
If the judge finds that there were mitigating factors, which are any evidence or information presented on the record that will provide reason for the judge to reduce the charges such as repentance or mental incompetence, the judge can reduce the sentence.
Who Should You Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in New Jersey, contact Adam H. Rosenblum of The Rosenblum Law Firm today. His team of skilled criminal defense attorneys will do what they can to protect your legal rights and fight to keep you out of prison. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 today.