Errors are part of life, whether it be an impulsive act, the product of too much partying, or a wrong decision caused by poor judgment. Sometimes, those mistakes can end in criminal charges.
In New Jersey, the state has several programs and options available to first-time offenders that are intended to provide alternatives to traditional criminal prosecution, reduce recidivism and encourage rehabilitation. One unique program available to first-time offenders in New Jersey is the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI). PTI is a diversionary program that allows first-time offenders to avoid a criminal record and the traditional criminal justice system by completing a period of supervision and meeting certain conditions, such as community service, restitution, or drug treatment. If the offender successfully completes the program, the charges against them will be dismissed.
Another program available to first-time offenders is Conditional Discharge. This program is similar to PTI but is limited to individuals charged with certain drug offenses. If the offender successfully completes a period of supervision and possible conditions like drug testing or treatment, the charges against them will be dismissed. First-time drug offenders are also offered an alternative to jail time through drug court. The program is designed to tackle substance abuse and consists of counseling, detox, community service, and other requirements. Participants must plead guilty to their charges to be accepted, and their reason for committing the crime must be related to a substance abuse problem.
First-time offenders may also be eligible probation in some cases, which allows a judge to suspend a prison sentence and place the offender on probation. If the offender successfully completes the probationary period, they may avoid serving a prison sentence. In addition to these programs and jail alternatives, New Jersey has an expungement process allowing eligible individuals to have their criminal records erased or sealed. First-time offenders may be eligible for expungement after a certain period has passed since their conviction, provided they meet specific eligibility criteria. Unfortunately, more severe crimes, such as violent acts or weapons offenses, can lead to jail terms and expensive fines, whether or not it is a first-time offense.
What First-Time Offenses Have Different Severities in NJ?
New Jersey, like most states, has different levels of offenses, and the severity of punishment often depends on the specific circumstances of the crime. Some crimes are judged harshly, even when it is a first-time offense. Assault can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the crime. A first-time offender may face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 10 years in prison, depending on the case. Drug charges are similarly variable, with a number of important considerations for grading the charge. Theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the stolen property, how it was obtained, and more.
Possible Sanctions for a First-Offense Misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is referred to as a disorderly persons offense. A subset of that category is a petty disorderly persons offense, the lowest level of charges one can receive. A disorderly persons offense is punishable by a range of sentences depending on the specific circumstances of the offense. A disorderly persons offense may result in a fine of up to $1,000. For a disorderly persons crime, the court may decide to impose probation rather than jail time. Community work may be mandated as part of a disorderly persons offense’s sentence or as a probationary requirement. The number of hours of community service ordered by the judge will depend on the specific circumstances of the offense.
What Kinds of Penalties Are Given for a First Offender Felony?
In New Jersey, first-time felony offenders may face a range of sentences depending on the severity of the crime and other factors. Jail time ranging from a year to life is a possibility, especially when the crime is particularly violent. A judge may order probation instead of jail time for a first-time felony offender. Probation typically lasts for a specific period and requires the offender to comply with certain conditions, such as community service, drug testing, and regular meetings with a probation officer.
A felony conviction may result in fines of up to $200,000 or more, depending on the severity of the offense. A judge may order community service as a condition of probation or as a standalone sentence for a first-time felony offense. The number of hours of community service ordered by the judge is based on the seriousness of the crime. In some cases, a judge may suspend a prison sentence for a first-time felony offender, meaning the offender does not have to serve a sentence as long as they comply with certain conditions while on probation.
It’s important to note that the sentencing options for a first-time felony offense in New Jersey may vary depending on the specific facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, and other mitigating or aggravating factors.
Harshest Sentencing for Some Charges Even If It Is Your First Offense
As previously mentioned, there are times when even if it is a first offense, a conviction for particularly or potentially violent crimes is met with severe penalties. A murder charge potentially carries a sentence of 30 years to life in prison, and a lesser murder charge carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years. Aggravated sexual assault involving sexual penetration or sexual contact with a victim under 13 or an adult who is physically or mentally incapacitated is a more severe charge, which carries a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, and a less severe charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years.
Robbery involves taking property from a person or a place through force, threats, or intimidation. A first-degree robbery charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, and a second-degree charge carries a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison. Likewise, aggravated assault carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if the circumstances are serious. The distribution of illegal drugs can be considered an extremely serious offense in New Jersey. Depending on the type and quantity of drugs involved, a first-degree charge carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, and a second-degree charge carries a penalty of 5 to 10 years in prison.
How Some Laws Prevent Lesser Sentences for First-Time Offenders
The No Early Release Act (NERA) is a law in New Jersey that applies to certain violent crimes, such as murder, aggravated sexual assault, and kidnapping. Under NERA, offenders convicted of these crimes must serve 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Crimes such as vehicular homicide, robbery, carjacking, manslaughter, murder, and robbery, all in the first or second degrees, also fall under NERA. For first-time offenders convicted of a NERA offense, they will not be eligible for early release until they have served at least 85% of their sentence. For example, if an offender is sentenced to 20 years in prison for a NERA offense, they must serve at least 17 years before becoming eligible for parole. NERA aims to ensure that violent crime offenders receive appropriate punishment and are not released too soon. However, it can significantly impact first-time offenders who may not have fully understood the severity of their actions or the potential consequences of their behavior.
The Graves Act is a New Jersey law that applies to certain gun-related offenses. The law mandates severe penalties for anyone convicted of certain firearm offenses, including possession of a firearm, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime such as burglary. Under the Graves Act, if an offender is convicted of a qualifying offense, they face mandatory minimum sentences that require them to serve a specific time in prison before becoming eligible for parole. For first-time offenders, this can mean facing a sentence of at least 42 months in jail, with no eligibility for parole during that time.
For some crimes, New Jersey requires offenders to serve their sentences in state prisons rather than in county jails or other correctional facilities. Also, convictions are to be served consecutively rather than concurrently, adding jail time to the defendant, in some cases. This can be a significant hardship for first-time offenders who may have never been incarcerated before and may be unprepared for prison conditions.
What Normally Occurs with 1st DWI Offenders who Get Arrested?
The penalties for a first-time DWI offense in New Jersey can vary depending on the case’s specific circumstances, such as the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the arrest and whether anyone was injured or killed as a result of the offense. New legislation was passed in 2019 that eliminates the suspension of a first-time offender’s driver’s license (unless their BAC exceeds 0.15% BAC), provided they install an ignition interlock device for a required period of time. It also reduces the length of license suspensions for subsequent convictions for DWI cases. DUI cases involving drugs still result in a mandatory suspended license for 7 to 12 months, even when it is a first offense and you end up convicted.
Does a First-Time Restraining Order Have Lesser Consequences?
No. You must follow the conditions of the order. Your firearms will be seized and you are not allowed to possess or own firearms moving forward. If you fail to follow the order, the state can initiate criminal charges to be filed against you. You could face jail time and fines for violating the conditions of the restraining order.
Talk to a New Jersey Defense Attorney for Your First Time Offense Charges
If you have been charged with an offense, your best option is to seek a criminal attorney as soon as possible. The criminal law system can be confusing, and you may not understand everything happening. You should have someone in your corner who can not only explain what is happening, but who has a plan to see you through it. We work with our clients to give them the best possible resolution for all types of criminal offenses. We are excellent negotiators and skilled litigators ready to represent you to the best of our ability against a criminal accusation, no matter what your criminal record has been.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for a first-time offense in Madison, Rockaway, Dover, Parsippany, Chatham, Hanover, and elsewhere in the Morris County area, it is imperative to have legal counsel immediately. Call us at (908)-336-5008 or contact us online. We know how stressful dealing with a first-time offense can be, and we are here to help.