How does Having a Prior Conviction Impact a New Criminal Case in NJ?
A criminal conviction on your record may affect you in unsuspected ways. Even one conviction can affect the severity of the sentence for your second offense. Since a judge has the discretion to tailor a sentence to the defendant before them, your prior record could influence a judge to sentence you to the higher end of the sentencing range. For example, the New Jersey legislature set the penalties for a fourth degree crime as up to 18 months in state prison. The person convicted of a fourth degree crime can also pay a fine of up to $10,000.00. The judge’s decision to sentence you to a year of incarceration versus probation can hinge on your criminal history, among other factors. So, if a jury convicts you for forgery, the judge decides your sentence. If they see you have a shoplifting conviction on your record also, they can sentence you more severely to deter recidivism. Generally speaking, a repeat offender gets a stiffer sentence than a first-time offender in a New Jersey criminal case.
However, an effective criminal defense attorney may argue that your earlier conviction was long enough ago, minimal in terms of severity, unrelated, or otherwise sufficient to consider the current conviction more like a first-time offense. Better yet, you may be able to beat the charges altogether based on various legal defenses, in which case the impact of the new charge will pale in comparison to what it could have been if you were otherwise convicted. To discuss your specific case and the potential impact of your criminal background on your options, contact our Union County criminal defense lawyers today at (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation.
Key Considerations when You have been Charged with a Crime and You Already Have a Criminal Record in New Jersey
The Time between Offenses
The time between the two convictions may suggest a penchant to commit a crime or an isolated incident to a judge. So, the length of time between crimes and the severity of the crimes plays into a judge’s sentencing decision. For example, a judge also considers whether the prior crime was a petty disorderly persons offense for being drunk and loud in public (disorderly conduct) that occurred 25 years prior when you were in college or for credit card fraud a year ago.
Removing the Diversionary Program Option
A criminal conviction that already happened can also affect a defendant’s ability to enroll in a diversionary program. Programs like the Pre-Trial Intervention in superior court or the conditional discharge or dismissal programs in municipal court allow a first-time offender to benefit from rehabilitative efforts rather than punishment by prison. In addition, the various New Jersey probationary programs offer resources for those who commit crimes due to substance abuse or life circumstances that cause people to fall into criminal activity. If you have a criminal history, you are typically not eligible for these programs as an alternative to incarceration. The logic goes diversionary programs are beneficial to those likely to turn their lives around after a mistake. A repeat offender does not appear likely to use the programs to rehabilitate as much as a first-time offender.
Sentencing Enhancements and Increased Penalties
Aside from discretionary sentences, a criminal history can affect your punishment prescribed by law. Many New Jersey laws lay out the increasing penalties for repeated offenses. For example, a DWI first offense includes a possible 30-day jail sentence for a first offense, among other fines, fees, surcharges, and obligations. But a second DUI offense automatically includes up to 90 days in jail and up to 30 days of community service, with increased fines, fees, surcharges, and obligations. A third drunk driving offense increases the jail time and money payments even more.
Also, multiple domestic violence convictions lead to higher penalties for each conviction. People convicted of similar crimes a second, third, or more times get higher sentences on the second, third, or subsequent convictions. Likewise, a judge may consider various crimes or prior criminal convictions as aggravating factors justifying a stricter punishment.
But the role a prior conviction plays in sentencing also depends on the crime. So, by law, a person convicted of a first- or second degree crime is presumed to go to prison. This presumption occurs because crimes in those two grade levels are the most egregious and dangerous to the public. The legislature deems those convictions harmful enough to warrant prison time unless a defense attorney can rebut the presumption showing why the presumption should not apply. Some third degree crimes also come with a presumption of incarceration. For example, the presumption applies to third degree auto theft convictions when the defendant has a prior auto theft conviction. Even a third-time shoplifting charge comes with a mandatory 90 days in jail attached.
Limitations on Plea Agreements
Moreover, your attorney may be less able to bargain with the prosecutor for a reduced sentence or dropped charges if you have a criminal history.
The prosecutor represents the people of the state of New Jersey. Their view of sentencing must always be with an eye toward public safety. So, if you have prior convictions, a prosecutor may have their hands tied as to what they can offer you with a criminal record. Certain violent crimes require mandatory minimum sentences under the No Early Release Act. To get a waiver for a mandatory minimum sentence, a convicted individual with a clean record is more likely to succeed than one with a record of prior convictions. Prior criminal history is a factor in determining what a prosecutor can offer or accept as a plea bargain in exchange for a guilty plea.
Additional Disadvantages of a Criminal Conviction in NJ
A criminal conviction has long-lasting ramifications, not only for sentencing and crime grade elevations but beyond the immediate conviction and sentencing. A criminal record can tie your hands in so many ways. If your dream is to become a nurse, teacher, lawyer, doctor, or other licensed professional, you may face additional challenges after being convicted of a crime. You might not have unlimited career, housing, or education options with a criminal record, as it can have a major impact on employment and other areas of your life. You may not be able to vote or own a gun with a criminal history. And for that, you may want the best possible defense for criminal charges against you.
Get Help Avoiding being Convicted for Another Offense by Contacting our Criminal Defense Attorneys
The best way to avoid a criminal record is to prevent a conviction. If you weren’t able to do so the first time around, you are even more in need of a criminal lawyer who can fervently defend your case after being charged with a crime or motor vehicle offense again. If you are facing charges for simple assault, resisting arrest, terroristic threats, unlawful possession of a weapon, aggravated assault, heroin possession, or another offense in the Union County area, contact our office for a free consultation today. Talk to a criminal defense attorney on our team and put your mind at rest at having experienced counsel by your side. We offer free consultations by contacting us online or calling (908) 838-0150.