What a Downgraded Criminal Charge can do for You in New Jersey


People in the criminal system often use the word “downgrade.” The definition of the term downgrade can take on slight variations depending on who is using it and what he or she is referring to. Generally, downgrading charges includes reducing the degree of the charge. For some, it can mean a reduction from a higher level felony to a lower level.  It can also mean downgrading a charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, which in New Jersey involves an indictable crime being reduced to a disorderly persons offense. Based on the circumstances in a given case, downgrading can be a significant tool for resolving criminal charges. Our Union County criminal defense attorneys, with local offices in Cranford, have represented countless people who have benefited from a downgrade in their criminal case. When you have been issued a summons or arrested on a warrant complaint in Roselle, Union Twp., Scotch Plains, Clark, Mountainside, Elizabeth, or other nearby towns, we have the talent and dedication to fight for you. Below is a further explanation of what it means to get criminal charges downgraded in New Jersey for your reference. To discuss your specific case and potential options, contact us at (908) 838-0150 now.

Downgrading the Level of NJ Criminal Charges

Prior to understanding how downgrading can benefit you, it is important to know how crimes are graded and the punishments associated therewith. In New Jersey, all criminal conduct is identified as an “offense.”  All “offenses” are further categorized as indictable crimes (felonies), disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanor), or petty disorderly persons offenses (pdp). Crimes of the indictable nature are more serious, as they can mandate incarceration of the accused in state prison upon conviction.  Indictable felony crimes also carry certain social consequences that are much harsher than those of disorderly persons offenses. For example, for an indictable offense, your fingerprints and DNA will be taken and kept on file to identify you as a person with a felony in their history, as well as to link you to any crime committed in the future. Indictable charges can additionally impact your employment and housing options, typically more so than lesser offenses. Disorderly persons offenses are not considered felonious crimes, but they can have similar impacts. A conviction for a disorderly persons offense could also impede your freedom if the case results in a term in county jail.

Technically speaking, a person can be sent to jail for a wide variety of criminal offenses, but the amount of time incarcerated and the likelihood of such a sentence upon conviction depends on the type of offense and degree of the charge.  Now that you know the difference between an indictable crime and disorderly persons offense, you must understand what you can be sentenced to for each. This is important because it allows you to conceptualize how a downgrade can help.  Each crime has a specified range of months or years and some entail more stringent presumptions. For example, anyone convicted of a first or second degree crime will presumably be sentenced to imprisonment.  The court cannot usually make an allowance for your personal circumstance, your family, or even your health. This mandatory jail is called a “presumption” of state prison.  The term is 5-10 years for a second degree and 10-20 in a first degree (sometimes more in egregious cases).

On the reverse side of the coin, third and fourth degree offenses allow for jail time but equally allow for probation, county jail in lieu of state prison, or a combination of county jail and probation.  Crimes in this range can be easier to resolve because the courts have additional leeway in sentencing, particularly for first time offenders, and there are more options available.  Nonetheless, if you are unable to resolve it some other way, you can be incarcerated for up to 18 months for a crime of fourth degree and up to 5 years for a third degree. Less jail time is permitted for a disorderly persons offense, as a charge of this nature carries a top term of 6 months in the county jail. This is reduced to 30 days for a petty offense one grade below.

How Can a Downgrade Reduce the Penalties in My NJ Criminal Case?

Downgrading a crime from a second to third degree or an indictable to a disorderly persons charge can have a drastic impact upon how the court sentences you and how that sentence impacts your life and the lives of your loved ones. A reduction may remove a mandatory sentencing provision or it may simply eliminate the prospect of a felony conviction. For instance, if you are charged with a second degree offense, there is a presumption of incarceration if convicted. However, if the charge is downgraded to a third degree, the judge can give you probation without you needing to spend time in jail.

Sometimes, a downgrade can mean the difference between getting a dismissal through a diversionary program such as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) or a conditional discharge versus coping with a conviction.  Similarly, if your charge is downgraded from a Superior Court criminal case to a Municipal Court case, there is zero chance of going to state prison, as this is not an option unless you are convicted of a felony offense.  You may also avoid the social stigma of a conviction for a felony.

Charged With a Crime, Who Can Assist With Getting It Reduced?

Downgrades can eliminate some of the potential harm based on your unique life and specific circumstances, but they are only possible in certain cases. Based on a review of the situation and the charges at hand, a downgraded charge may be your best option and ultimately yield the most beneficial result. Our criminal lawyers know because they have seen this time and time again when defending clients facing charges for aggravated assaultdisorderly conductburglary, drug possession, shoplifting, and other offenses in Union County NJ. To speak with a dedicated criminal defense lawyer with local offices in Cranford, contact us at (908) 838-0150. Consultations are available 24/7 free of charge.

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.