Violence as an Element of New Jersey Crimes

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The law is clear in New Jersey. Theft, weapons possession, and drunk driving are grave threats to public peace and safety. However, when simple theft, possession charges, and DWI accidents elevate to much more serious crimes, you can be sure that is because bodily harm or threatened physical harm arose during the commission of a crime or offense. The law considers threatening another’s life or limb the most egregious of criminal behavior. So, punishment for violence or unconscionable conduct enhances simple acts of property and possession crimes into grave acts of public safety concern.

Theft Plus Violence Equals Robbery

Take robbery, for instance. A robbery may start as simple theft. Say an individual walks into a department store and steal items. If they get caught, their punishment depends on how much they stole from the store. If they took a few inexpensive things, like a few pairs of socks and a pair of jeans worth $100.00, they might end up in municipal court for a disorderly persons offense. For stolen items worth less than $200.00, the person charged with shoplifting faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine for a disorderly persons offense. But if the accused took electronic devices or accessories, items worth between $200 and $500, they might serve up to 18 months in jail for a fourth degree crime. Third degree theft includes stolen items valued between $500.00 and $75,000, perhaps for stealing a car, which comes with a possible five-year prison term. And for items worth over $75,000.00, for stealing over a kilogram of cocaine, for example, the convicted felon is facing the possibility of going to jail for possibly ten years.

And yet, regardless of the amount, if the theft involved a weapon, theft raises to robbery, a first degree or second degree crime with considerably long prison terms, possibly 5 to 10 or 10 to 20 years. Thus, if the individual who went into the store to steal a few clothing items tells the store security guard apprehending him that is going to hurt them, shoplifting or petty theft elevates to second degree robbery. And if the individual tries to escape arrest by stabbing the security guard with a knife or brandishing a handgun, they face up to 20 years in prison for first degree robbery. The difference between the two is the serious harm inflicted on the victim, the threat of serious injury, an attempt to kill another human being or committing a second degree crime.

Auto Theft Plus Violence Amounts to Carjacking

Aside from shoplifting, automobile theft can be a violent or non-violent theft crime. For example, an individual can steal a car by stealing someone’s keys to their car and driving off with it from the owner’s driveway at night. Auto theft occurs when the accused knows the car is not theirs, yet they intend to keep the vehicle, permanently depriving the vehicle owner. They can also steal a car left running momentarily in front of a store or home. Other methods include hotwiring the vehicle, using electronic devices to unlock car doors, or deceiving an owner into handing over their keys or loaning the car. Auto theft is a third degree crime. So, regardless of how they stole the car, an accused convicted of auto theft could serve five years in jail, pay additional fines and restitution, and lose their license for a year. Subsequent convictions lead to higher fines and longer license suspensions.

However, once the theft involves a weapon or physical force, third degree auto theft turns into a first degree carjacking. For example, a person intent on stealing a car jumps into the passenger seat while the owner waits for the car to fill up with gas. They order the vehicle owner by gunpoint to drive off from the gas station and then order them out of the car, driving off and leaving the driver stranded without a vehicle, personal belongings, or phone. A carjacking could occur by the carjacker physically injuring the driver to steal their car too. If caught, the carjacker faces up to 30 years in prison with a mandatory minimum sentence under the No Early Release Act (NERA) without the possibility of parole. Again, violence, threats of violence, or inflicted physical harm raise the grade level of many crimes, including shoplifting and car theft.

Possession of a Weapon Plus Intent to Commit a Crime Adds Charges and Penalties

Another crime grade elevation occurs when someone illegally possesses a weapon with the intention of committing a crime, meaning they possess a weapon and then use it or intend to use it for any unlawful purpose. New Jersey outlaws specific weapons, such as an automatic weapon or a handgun without a permit. All firearms purchasers in New Jersey must have a firearm purchasing permit and if they intend to carry, a handgun carry permit issued by the state. Possessing a gun without a permit can result in a second degree conviction, up to 10 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum prison term parole ineligibility per the Graves Act.

However, if the police find the illegal weapon on one attempting to commit burglary, the state can charge them with possessing a weapon for an unlawful purpose in addition to an upgraded burglary charge. The assumption is that they would use the gun to commit the burglary or to escape getting caught. Depending on the weapon, the crime is a fourth, third, or second degree crime. Possessing weapons, like explosives or handguns, if used for any illegal purpose, result in second degree criminal charges.

Car Accidents Resulting in Injury can Turn into Criminal Charges

Finally, even automobile accidents can turn from simple traffic violations to criminal charges when injury or death occurs. For example, a driver is inattentive and drives their car into an immovable object, a road sign, or a parked car. The driver may end up paying for the damages and tickets for traffic violations. If they injure someone in the accident, the penalties are monetary plus possible jail time, as they may be charged with assault by auto. Plus, when a drunk driver causes an injury in a DWI accident, the driver faces much more severe charges than a DUI without an injury accident. A typical DUI is a traffic violation with burdensome penalties. A driver could go to jail, pay enormous fines, and endure driving restrictions, annual surcharges, and days in an intoxicated driver’s resource center. A municipal court judge issues the sentence, and the convicted driver may spend years getting over the traffic violation.

However, a DWI that ends with an injured victim turns a traffic violation into an indictable crime handled in the superior court. A driver convicted of assault by auto can get five years in prison for a third degree crime. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and causing an accident is minimally a fourth degree crime. And leaving a scene of an accident is a traffic violation resulting in a potential 30 days in jail, 30-day license suspension, 2 points on their driving record (6 points lead to surcharges), and up to $400 in fines for a first offense. But if the driver leaves an injury (or death) accident scene, they can add a criminal charge to the traffic offense. The traffic violation can result in six months in jail, but the third degree indictable crime adds up to five years’ incarceration, plus a one-year license suspension, fines up to $5,000.00 for the traffic offense, and $15,000.00 for the crime, a $600.00 surcharge ad 8 points.

Discuss Your Violent Crime Charges with a Criminal Lawyer in Cranford, New Jersey

If your criminal charges or traffic offenses involve violence, threats of violence, injuries, or death, you face severe penalties. You will need the services of a criminal defense attorney with years of experience defending those accused of violent crimes in New Jersey. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover an attorney has tried and true strategies to help you protect yourself against the state’s charges. If you enlist help from our Union County criminal defense firm, you have an attorney on your side who is there to protect your rights and supply the best possible defense. Contact a professional you can trust and get a free consultation 24/7 by calling (908) 838-0150 today.

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.