Plea Negotiations in New Jersey Criminal Cases

Scales of Justice

Plea bargaining is an essential part of the criminal justice system in New Jersey. In essence, a plea bargain can be your first line of defense to secure a favorable outcome in the face of an unfavorable factual situation, a new criminal charge when you have a lengthy prior record, or it is unlikely that you will win at trial. If the prosecutor has a strong case against you, sometimes your best option is to have your attorney negotiate the best deal possible. This may mean that you agree to plead guilty to one or more charges in exchange for a more lenient or reduced sentence. Sometimes, a plea bargain can involve charges that have been downgraded to a lesser offense, while in others, you agree to plead to the original charge in order to avoid jail or prison time, receive a reduced sentence, be placed on probation, or otherwise have lesser consequences. But what if a plea deal isn’t on the table?

Unbeknownst to many people in New Jersey, there are certain criminal and motor vehicle offenses for which prosecutors are prohibited from negotiating a deal or reducing penalties through plea bargains. For instance, if you have been arrested for a DWI or have been charged with a crime with a mandatory minimum prison term, this leaves prosecutors with little to no discretionary room to lessen the repercussions of a conviction or guilty plea. Your best bet may be to aggressively fight the case at trial, or perhaps investigate an exception or alternative for extraordinary circumstances. It is always a good idea to enlist help from an experienced New Jersey criminal trial attorney who can give you tailored legal advice. Our lawyers have been assisting clients facing criminal charges in New Jersey municipal and superior courts for many years and we can help you examine your options and pursue the best possible result. Call (201) 793-8018 for a free consultation or reach out online to schedule an appointment at our offices in Hudson County.

Plea Deals for Criminal Charges in NJ

Prosecutors generally evaluate a fairly uniform set of factors in deciding whether or not to agree to a reduced jail or prison term, a lower number of required community service hours, or an otherwise reduced set of penalties in exchange for a guilty plea. The other critical factor that can work in your favor or against you is the skill and experience of your defense attorney, who plays a key part in negotiating a plea on your behalf. The evaluation of these factors and the negotiation over a proposed sentence is called “plea bargaining.” As part of the plea bargaining process, prosecutors will generally examine your criminal history, any aggravating factors (facts that work against you), mitigating factors (facts that work in your favor), and the point at which you agree to a plea in your criminal case. For example, negotiating a plea deal earlier on in your case may lead to a better offer or outcome than pleading guilty on the eve of trial or after new evidence has emerged. Notably, courts are able to refuse to accept plea bargains and direct the parties to renegotiate if they have reason to believe the terms of the deal are unjust. While this is the common plea-bargaining framework for the majority of criminal cases, it does not apply to all charges and offenses.

Can I Take a Plea for a Reduced Sentence in New Jersey?

Plea bargaining to receive a lesser sentence is generally available in New Jersey criminal cases. However, there are several New Jersey criminal statutes that limit a prosecutor’s discretion to offer a plea in exchange for a lesser sentence. For example, defendants convicted of violating New Jersey’s Comprehensive Drug Reform Act, codified at NJSA 2C:35-1 et seq., are generally required to serve mandatory minimum prison sentences and are subject to periods of parole ineligibility. In other words, if you are convicted of one of these specific types of drug crimes, a prosecutor cannot offer you a term of incarceration lower than the mandatory minimum established by law. These typically apply in cases involving first and second degree drug distribution, drug charges for selling drugs in a school zone, or intent to distribute near other public property, like public parks and public housing facilities.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Prosecutors can sometimes adjust your plea offer downward based on the application of aggravating and mitigating factors and other case-specific considerations. Contact our experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorneys to learn if the drug charges you are facing are subject to mandatory minimum or parole ineligibility. We are extremely well-versed in these laws and we can explain your potential defenses and other options.

Restrictions on Plea Bargaining for DWI in NJ

A DWI is another example of a charge that cannot be reduced or bargained away absent special circumstances. New Jersey’s former acting Attorney General issued a directive stating that local prosecutors should not downgrade or reduce DWI charges. This means that prosecutors cannot reduce a DUI charge or lessen the penalties for a DWI offense unless an evidentiary issue prevents the state from proving the case against you. Your attorney can successfully establish this kind of severe problem of proof as well, which can lead to the suppression of critical evidence and ultimately, the charges being dismissed.

Can I Plead to Lessen Penalties for NJ Gun Charges?

A stringent New Jersey law known as the Graves Act imposes mandatory minimum prison terms for certain firearm offenses. The Graves Act applies to the unlawful possession of a weapon when it involves machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, other types of firearms, defaced firearms, possession of a firearm as a felon, defacement of a firearm, and possession of a firearm when committing certain other crimes, among other serious criminal charges. If you are convicted of a crime to which the Graves Act applies, you must serve a minimum of three years in prison or a certain percentage of your overall prison term without eligibility for parole, whichever is greater. While these mandatory minimums generally cannot be bargained away, your lawyer may be able to obtain a Graves Act waiver in your case to help you avoid a mandatory minimum.

Get Help With Plea Negotiations in Jersey City NJ

These restrictions and others that apply to certain crimes in New Jersey can make it much more difficult for you to receive a reduced sentence. If you have been arrested on any criminal charges in Hudson County or elsewhere in New Jersey, the best thing you can do is to find knowledgeable legal counsel. You are entitled to defend your innocence and exercising your rights is essential to avoid serious consequences. Call (201) 793-8018 to speak with one of our highly qualified criminal defense attorneys about what may apply in your particular case. Our team is available 24/7 to provide you with a free consultation.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.