Criminal Defense

If you have recently been accused of a crime, our legal team of New Jersey criminal defense attorneys may be able to help. Please take a few moments to look over the information on this page to learn more.

 

What is criminal law?

Criminal laws are laws that define “crimes” – behaviors that city, state, or federal governments determine to be dangerous to society and its citizens. These laws describe

  1. behavior – the type of conduct that is labeled a crime
  2. mindset – the mindset or intent required while engaging in the act
  3. punishment – in some cases, the proper punishment for the crime, such as fines, imprisonment, probation, and community service.

In criminal law, cases are labeled misdemeanors or felonies. The main distinction between the two is the severity of the crime and how long you may be imprisoned as punishment. Felonies are more serious crimes like rape or murder that are punishable by imprisonment of more than a year. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes like petty theft which are punishable by less than a year of imprisonment.

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What is the difference between civil and criminal law?

In US law, there are two different types of court cases – civil and criminal. The party charged with the crime is called the defendant. In civil cases, the party filing the lawsuit is called the plaintiff. In criminal cases, the party filing suit is called the prosecutor. Here are some main differences:

  • Who initiates the case? Civil cases are usually between individuals or organizations and involve disputes over what the parties legally owe each other. The party who believes they were wrong initiates the case. For instance, if two businesses sign a contract and later, one party believes the other did not fulfill the terms of that contract, that party may file civil charges.In a criminal case, the government seeks to punish an individual for committing a crime, as defined by Congress or state legislature. Here, the case is initiated and pursued by a prosecutor rather than the crime victim. And the prosecutor doesn’t need the support of the crime victim to file criminal charges – nor does he or she need to file suit even if the crime victim wants to file charges.
  • Who represents the parties? In civil cases, both parties must either represent themselves or hire an attorney to represent them. In criminal cases, if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, he or she is appointed a government-paid lawyer to represent him/her.
  • What must be proved in court? In civil cases, the plaintiff must show that the defendant is liable for more than 50% of damages (the legal term is a “preponderance of the evidence”). In criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
  • Who decides the outcome of cases? In civil cases, the defendant is rarely entitled to a jury trial. In criminal cases, the defendant is almost always entitled to a jury trial.
  • What is the likely outcome? In civil cases, if the defendant is found guilty, the punishment is monetary rather than imprisonment. In criminal cases, prison is a likely punishment – particularly for severe cases.

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What is white collar crime?

White collar crime was initially defined in 1939 by a speech given by Edwin Sutherland to the American Sociology Society. In it, he defined the term as “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.”

Today, white collar crime generally applies to nonviolent crimes involving deceit and/or concealment to obtain financial gain. According to the FBI, it is estimated to cost the US more than $300 billion annually.

Some of the most common types of white collar crime are antitrust violations, computer crimes, conspiracy, counterfeiting, fraud (ie credit card fraud, insurance fraud, mail fraud, financial or securities fraud), tax evasion, environmental laws violations, insider trading, bribery, public corruption, money laundering, embezzlement and perjury.

White collar criminal charges are usually brought against individuals, although corporations may also be liable for certain offenses. Common punishments include fines, home detention, and imprisonment.

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What happens if I am convicted of a felony?

Convicted felons serve a longer imprisonment, usually under more severe conditions, than those convicted of a misdemeanor. In addition, convicted felons may also lose the right to vote, serve on a jury, serve in the military, own firearms, or be employed in some professions like teaching or law.

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Do I need to hire a criminal defense lawyer?

Under most circumstances, if you are facing a criminal charge, you will benefit from consulting with a criminal defense attorney. Your lawyer will help you understand the nature of the charges filed against you, what available defense options you may have, what types of plea bargains you may be offered, and what may happen to you if you are convicted.

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When should I contact a criminal defense lawyer?

The earlier you consult with a criminal defense attorney, the better. It’s best to consult with your lawyer before charges are filed or as early as possible after an arrest. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on what to expect in the days to come and may be able to position you for a better outcome.

Here are some things your lawyer may be able to do:

  • Negotiate a Dismissal – Your lawyer may be able to spot problems with the case early on. He or she can contact the prosecutor before charges are authorized, explain the problem with the case, and get the charges against you dismissed before the case begins. This is much more difficult to do after charges are filed.
  • Negotiate a Favorable Plea Bargain – Even if the charges brought against you are valid, your lawyer may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to drop some of the charges if you plead guilty to a less serious charge.
  • Assist the Police or Prosecutor in Ongoing Investigations – Often, if you have information or evidence that is relevant to you your role in the offense, your lawyer may be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain or have charges dropped if you can provide the police or prosecutor with relevant information or evidence.

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Do I need an attorney even if I intend to plead guilty?

It will almost always be in your best interest to contact a defense attorney rather than represent yourself. Even if you are guilty of the crime and intend to plead guilty, a lawyer can help you minimize your sentence for a more favorable outcome.

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What if I can’t afford an lawyer?

It is your right under the US Constitution to be represented by a lawyer if you have been accused of a crime. If you can’t afford an attorney, you can ask the court to appoint a public defender to your case during your first court appearance (usually, your arraignment or bail hearing). There, the judge will ask if you are represented by an attorney. If you aren’t, you’ll be asked if you want to apply for court-appointed counsel. Some courts appoint a lawyer for you immediately, while others require you to provide details about your financial situation to see if you qualify for free legal counsel.

If you don’t qualify for free counsel but can’t afford a private lawyer, you can still obtain the services of a public defender. At the end of your trial, the judge may require you to reimburse the state or county for a portion of your legal fees.

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What can I expect if I contact an attorney?

Once you request a Free Case Evaluation, a New Jersey attorney will contact you to discuss the details of your case. These include:

  • Interview you to learn your side of the story
  • Evaluate the extent and severity of your case
  • Determine which course of action will yield the most favorable outcome
  • Fully explain all possible ramifications

If you decide to retain legal representation with one of our New Jersey attorneys, your case will be prepared as if it indeed will be necessary to go to trial.

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What happens at my arraignment?

At your arraignment, you or your lawyer appear in court to enter a plea of “not guilty” and the judge will set your pretrial or trial date. If you are charged with a misdemeanor and are represented by an attorney, you won’t have to appear in court. If you are charged with a felony, you must appear at all court appearances unless you file a special waiver.

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How does the court decide if someone is guilty of a crime?

According to US law, all people are presumed to be innocent until they are convicted. This can happen as a result of pleading guilty or as the verdict in a trial. In a trial, the prosecutor must convince a jury that the defendant is guilty of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” – rather than the defendant prove that he is not guilty of the crime. If the prosecutor cannot convince a jury that the defendant is guilty, the case is dismissed.

To prove that the defendant is guilty of a crime, the prosecutor must prove two things:

  1. that the defendant committed or attempted to commit the required acts of the crime as defined by criminal statute
  2. that the defendant was in a required state of mind and “intended” to commit the crime

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Can I be punished for “attempting” to commit a crime?

Yes, many jurisdictions have some type of general “attempt” crime that make serious acts – like attempted murder or attempted burglary – a crime. These statutes are in place to punish individuals who show that they are capable of committing a crime without waiting until the criminal act is completed. In this case, the prosecutor must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person intended to commit a crime and took a step beyond merely thinking about doing it.

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Will I get a trial by jury?

The US Constitution grants those accused of a crime the right to be tried by a jury. However, most petty crimes – those that carry a sentence of less than six months – are not tried before a jury. The size of the jury varies based on how serious the charge is and can range between 6 and 12 people. The jury’s job is to weigh the evidence and determine whether there is enough evidence to find the defendant guilty.

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Does New Jersey have a three-strikes law?

Yes, New Jersey law lists six types of third-strike felonies including murder, aggravated manslaughter, certain aggravated sexual assaults, armed robbery, carjacking and certain kidnappings. If a person is convicted of three felonies, and the third is a violent crime, the “three-strikes” law requires that person to be sentenced to life in prison.

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Are children charged with committing crimes prosecuted similarly to adults?

Children are usually tried in the juvenile court system, which is a separate judicial system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than on punishment. In some serious cases, older juveniles can be charged as adults in the regular criminal court system.

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What if I am falsely accused of a crime?

If you are falsely accused of a crime, it is essential that you speak with a defense lawyer right away. A common mistake that some defendants make is believing that because they are innocent and have nothing to hide, they don’t need legal representation. While the US criminal justice system works in most cases, there have been some instances where innocent people end up in jail.

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What are the attorney’s fees?

Your initial consultation is free. Once you have spoken with one of our lawyers, we will estimate a fee based on the nature and complexity of your case. We offer flexible payment plans and can accommodate the needs of most people.

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How do I get started?

Please fill out the Free Case Evaluation form on the top right side of this page and we will respond within 24 hours. If you wish to speak with someone immediately, call our client-intake specialist, Ken Cooper, at (856) 308-5426.