Types of Criminal Cases

State Crimes and Offenses

When you are charged with a crime, every case is serious and should be treated that way by your attorney. A conviction can end your freedom, can cause you to lose your business, can prevent you from getting meaningful employment, can cause you to lose your family or custody of your children, and can cause you to be deported if you are not a citizen. Simply put, a conviction can change the course of your life. As soon as you become aware that you are the target of an investigation or are charged with a crime, you need counsel who will take your case as seriously as you do.

New Jersey’s criminal code of justice breaks down crimes into specific categories, and the following list sets forth the most common crimes, but there are many others.

Offenses Involving Danger to the Person

Criminal homicide (murder), aggravated assault, assault, leaving the scene of an accident with injury, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, interference with custody, luring, human trafficking, sex offenses, sexual assault (rape), criminal sexual contact, lewdness, invasion of privacy, robbery, and bias crimes.

Offenses Against Property

Arson, criminal mischief, burglary, theft by deception, theft by extortion, theft of property lost, mislaid or delivered by mistake, computer crimes, receiving stolen property, fencing stolen property, and theft of automobiles, forgery, health care fraud, insurance fraud, falsifying records, bad checks and money transfers, credit card fraud, misconduct by corporate officials, deceptive business practices, commercial bribery, impersonation, and identity theft. 

Offenses Against Others 

Offenses against the family, children, bigamy, endangering the welfare of children, domestic violence, willful non-support, neglect of elderly or disabled persons.

Offenses Against Public Administration

Bribery, perjury, false swearing, obstructing justice, misconduct in office, and abuse of offense.

Offenses Against Public Order, Health, and Decency

Riot, disorderly conduct, public indecency, drug crimes, gambling, firearms and other dangerous weapons, racketeering, creating a hazard, cyber harassment, disrupting meetings and processions, placing signs or displays that imply threats of violence, desecrating religious or sectarian premises, desecrating venerated objects, and hazing.

Controlled Dangerous Substances/Drug Offenses

Possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) is the most common drug charge in New Jersey. If a drug is classified as a CDS, it cannot be sold, distributed, or possessed unless prescribed or provided by law. A drug is considered a CDS if it is susceptible to abuse, warrants regulation by the state, and has been specifically made illegal by statute.

The most common drug charges include: 

  • Leader of narcotics trafficking network.
  • Manufacturing, distribution, and dispensing drugs.
  • Distribution or possession of certain public property.
  • CDS near or on school property.
  • Possession of certain prescription drugs.
  • Wandering, remaining in or prowling public places with the purpose of obtaining or selling controlled substances.

You do not have to be in direct possession of CDS to be charged. There is a concept in the law called “constructive possession” where, if you have the ability possess or exercise control over CDS, you may be charged even if it is not on your person. The most common constructive possession charges occur when several people are in a car and CDS is found in the vehicle. When this occurs, some or all of the occupants of the car may be charged. 

Sexual Offenses

Some sex offense charges carry severe penalties and lengthy jail sentences if there is a conviction. Sex offense charges can implicate Megan’s Law resulting in community registration and notification and possibly parole supervision for life (PSL). The implication of any sex offense can change the course of your life and burden a person with a lifetime of shame, restrictions on family life, and limitations in where they can reside and employed.

Our criminal code breaks down sex crimes into specific categories, and the following list identify the most common crimes:

  • Aggravated sexual assault.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Aggravated criminal sexual contact.
  • Sexual contact.
  • Endangering the welfare of a child by engaging in sexual conduct.
  • Possession and distribution of child pornography.
  • Lewdness.

Megan’s Law and Tiering of Community Notification

If convicted of sex crime that requires the application of Megan’s Law, a person will be burdened for lifetime with restrictions that will include community registration as a sex offender for life and different levels of possible community notification, which is commonly referred at “tiering.” Convictions or certain sex offense will require community supervision for life (CSL) or PSL.

Conditions of supervision may interfere with the development of a normal family life, may effect child custody, may restrict where one resides, may limit one’s options for employment, may restrict one’s ability to travel in the United States or foreign countries, and may deny or limit one’s access to computers and/or the internet. Once convicted of certain sex offenses the offender’s name will be entered in the Sex Offender Central Registry on the internet.

Upon conviction, the County Prosecutor’s Office, where the defendant resides or where the defendant was convicted, will prepare a risk assessment for re-offense, which will include a recommendation as to which Tier (level of notification) a person falls within. That Tier designation has significant consequences. The Tiers are as follows:

  • Tier 1: Notification is to be limited to only those law enforcement agencies likely to encounter the offender, unless needed for law enforcement purposes.
  • Tier 2: Notification is to be provided to law enforcement agencies and such community organizations and educational institutions which are likely to encounter the offender.
  • Tier 3: The prosecutor will have the responsibility of arranging for notification to be provided to those members of the public likely to encounter the person registered.

The determination of the Tier level and type and level of notification is determined by the application of the Attorney General Guidelines for Law Enforcement for the Implementation of Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Laws. Prosecutors use the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale (RRAS) to determine the Tier level it will propose. The prosecutor serves the Tier designation upon the registrant which a defendant may challenge in court.

Initially, the burden to establish the Tier level resides with the prosecutor by clear and convincing evidence. Expert testimony is frequently required to effectively challenge a prosecutor’s determination of Tier level in court. Once a Tier level has been established and confirmed by a court, any attempt to modify the Tier determination shifts the to the registrant to overcome a presumption that it is correct.

Theft Crimes

Generally, theft crimes involve the knowing and purposeful deprivation of the property of another with the intent to keep the property, deprive the owner of the property for an extended period of time causing it to lose its value, or dispose of the property so that it is unlikely that it will recovered by the owner.

There are numerous kinds of theft charges, including, but not limited to:

  • Unlawful access or alteration of a computer device.
  • Motor vehicle theft.
  • Theft by unlawful taking or disposition.
  • Theft by deception.
  • Theft by extortion.
  • Theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake.
  • Receiving stolen property.
  • Fencing (selling stolen property).
  • Theft of services.
  • Shoplifting.

Grading of Theft Offenses

The severity of the theft and the penalties assigned to theft are determined by the value and nature of the type of theft. As a general proposition:

  • Second degree: If the amount exceeds $75,000.
  • Third degree: If the amount exceeds $500 but is less than $75,000.
  • Fourth degree: If the amount exceeds $200 but is less than $500.
  • Disorderly persons offense: If the amount is less than $200.

It should be noted that certain types of theft crimes are determined by the nature of the crime and not simply based upon amount of loss.

Official Misconduct 

Public officials are held to a high standard in the performance of their office. Any action by a public servant that involves misconduct to that office may result in severe penalties, including a presumption of imprisonment, forfeiture of office, and severe monetary penalties.

The official misconduct statute provides that:

  • A public servant is guilty of official misconduct when, with purpose to obtain a benefit for themselves or another or to injure or to deprive another of a benefit:
    • They commit an act relating to their office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of their official functions, knowing that such act is unauthorized or they are committing such act in an unauthorized manner; or
    • They knowingly refrain from performing a duty which is imposed upon them by law or is clearly inherent in the nature of their office.

Official misconduct is a crime of the second degree. If the benefit obtained or sought to be obtained, or of which another is deprived or sought to be deprived, is of a value of $200 or less, the offense of official misconduct is a crime of the third degree.

Public servant is broadly defined. If you have been charged with official misconduct, it means that you have allegedly engaged in improper or illegal acts that benefit you, deprived another individual of their rights or privileges, and violated your duty to act on behalf of the public good. A public servant includes any government employee or officer, elected officials, judges, jurors in a court case, or advisors or certain consultants for the government. 

A person who is not a public servant may be convicted of official misconduct if is proven that they were a co-conspirator or accomplice with a public official.

New Jersey’s Shoplifting Laws Impose Criminal and Civil Penalties

Shoplifting is a serious crime that occurs when an individual steals merchandise, switches price tags, transfers or conceals merchandise, knowingly under rings the sale of a product or removes a shopping cart. In New Jersey, individuals found guilty of shoplifting may face both criminal and civil penalties. 

Like other theft crimes, the criminal penalties for shoplifting are determined by the value of the merchandise that was stolen. See the section on grading of theft crimes. 

In addition to the fines associated with the degree of the offense, a judge may order the shoplifter to perform community service, first offense at least 10 days, second offense at least 15 days, third and subsequent offense for up to 25 days. Third or more convictions require a minimum jail term of 90 days. A shoplifter may also be civil liability to the store owner for damages.

Innocent People Do Get Charged – It Is Critical to Secure Counsel at the Earliest Possible Time

Make no mistake, innocent people do get charged. Sometimes, charges are issued before a full investigation has taken place. Sometimes, charges are based on false, malicious, or misinformation. Sometimes, law enforcement officers or prosecutors make a mistake on the law.

Our criminal and civil regulatory laws are very broad, and it is important to seek counsel at the earliest possible time. Whenever one learns of a pending investigation by a law enforcement agency, the police, regulatory agency, or by an insurance company, you should immediately consult with counsel. 

Understand that one’s freedom, economic security, and family, including child custody, may be at risk whenever one becomes a target of a criminal investigation or a conviction. 

Getting an attorney involved early enables the attorney to conduct an investigation on your behalf, to locate and take statements from witnesses, locate and preserve documents, and hopefully to preserve and provide exculpatory information to law enforcement or to prosecutors. Early action by an attorney may be able to head off a criminal charge, may prevent an indictment, and may prevent action against a professional license. Significantly, early action may save you the emotional and economic consequences of defending a criminal charge, indictment, or civil or administrative litigation. 

What Are Possible Defense Strategies for Serious Crimes?

Whether you are guilty or innocent, it is imperative that you take the charges seriously and that you have a thorough understanding of the defense strategies that are available based on the crime for which you have been charged. 

Reasonable Doubt

The prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. If the defense can establish a reasonable doubt as to any of the required elements necessary to convict, the defendant should be acquitted.

What if You Are Innocent?

That does not mean that you can simply sit back and hope that an investigation will result in no action or that a prosecutor will review the case and administratively dismiss a charge. 

While it is the state’s burden to prove all of the elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, early and aggressive representation is necessary to place the target or defendant in the best possible position to prevent or defeat a criminal prosecution.

It is up to the prosecution to prove guilt on all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Innocent until proven guilty: This is one of the most basic legal presumptions of the American legal system. The judge and jury have a legal obligation to assume that you are innocent until it can be proved otherwise. It is the job of the prosecution to prove that you are guilty, not yours, to prove your innocence. That said immediate action should be taken by you to preserve and establish a defense.
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt: If reasonable doubt can be established, the prosecution has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, and the jury should find you innocent. “A reasonable doubt is an honest and reasonable uncertainty in your minds about the guilt of the defendant after you have given full and impartial consideration to all of the evidence. A reasonable doubt may arise from the evidence itself or from a lack of evidence. It is a doubt that a reasonable person hearing the same evidence would have…in criminal cases the law does not require proof that overcomes every possible doubt.”

You Committed the Act But Should Not Be Held Responsible

There are numerous defenses in our law which are entirely dependent on the specific crime that is charged and the facts underlying to events. 

Some of the defenses existing under our law, include: 

  • Self-defense.
  • Intoxication negating an element of the offense.
  • Intoxication pathological or not self-induced.
  • Duress.
  • Consent by the victim.
  • Entrapment.
  • Causation.
  • Ignorance or mistake.
  • Renunciation of conspiracy.
  • Insanity.
  • Mental disease or defect negating an element of the offense.
  • Battered woman’s syndrome.
  • De Minimus infractions (did not actually cause harm or too trivial to warrant conviction).

You need an attorney to assess the record to determine which defense to assert on your behalf and how to develop the record supporting that defense. 

Some defenses shift the burden of proof to the defendant, so it is necessary for experienced counsel to make the determination which defenses apply.

Somerville Criminal Defense Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Fiercely Advocate for Individuals Facing Serious Criminal Charges.

If you are being investigated or have been charged with a serious crime, it is in your best interest to contact a Somerville criminal defense lawyer at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We will work tirelessly to protect your rights and secure the best possible outcome. To schedule a free consultation, call us at the office at 908-575-9777 or you can reach Eric Marcy, Esq. directly at 908-581-2388 or contact us online. Our offices are located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, and we proudly serve clients throughout New Jersey, including but not limited to Somerset County, Morris County, Middlesex County, Union County, Essex County, Bergen County, Hunterdon County, Warren County, Sussex County, Passaic County, and Monmouth County.