How Do Mitigating Factors Reduce a Criminal Sentence in New Jersey?

If you visit our legal blog regularly, you may have seen our previous post about how aggravating factors affect sentencing in New Jersey criminal cases.  In this article, we’ll be approaching the same topic from the opposite direction by focusing on mitigating factors, or factors that can help make a convicted defendant’s prison sentence shorter.

Sentencing for Misdemeanors (DP Offenses) and Felonies (Crimes) in NJ

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Most states refer to criminal offenses as misdemeanors and felonies.  New Jersey uses slightly different language, which can create confusion for those who lack familiarity with the criminal justice system in Atlantic County.

In New Jersey, minor offenses roughly equivalent to misdemeanors are known as “disorderly persons offenses,” or simply “DP offenses” for short.  Low-level DP offenses, such as disorderly conduct, are described as “petty” DP offenses.  Felonies are referred to as “indictable crimes” or “indictable offenses.”  Sometimes, they are simply called “crimes.”

DP and indictable offenses are punishable by sentences which can range rather broadly.  Take a look at the following sentencing possibilities:

  • Misdemeanor (Disorderly Persons) Offenses  
    • Petty DP Offenses – Up to 30 days in jail
    • DP Offense – Up to 6 months in jail
  • Felony (Indictable) Offenses  
    • Fourth Degree Crime – Up to 18 months in prison
    • Third Degree Crime – 3 to 5 years in prison
    • Second Degree Crime – 5 to 10 years in prison
    • First Degree Crime – 10 to 20 years in prison

As you can see, some of these terms have huge sentencing ranges.  For example, when two people are convicted of a first degree crime, Person A might be incarcerated for twice as long as Person B.

In order to determine how long a convicted defendant’s sentence should be, judges refer to pre-existing sentencing guidelines (for example, the sentencing guidelines for first time Schedule IV drug offenses, or the sentencing guidelines for unlawful possession of a weapon in Atlantic City).  In addition to considering sentencing guidelines, judges also consider whether the crime involved any aggravating or mitigating factors.  The prosecutor will focus on aggravating factors, while your Atlantic City defense attorney will emphasize mitigating factors in an effort to keep sentencing as lenient as possible.

Examples of Mitigating Factors in Criminal Cases in Atlantic City

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Mitigating factors in New Jersey are listed under N.J.S.A. § 2C:44-1(b).  This statue provides the following as mitigating factors in criminal cases:

  • The defendant has a clean criminal record.
  • While it helps to have a clean record, you can still face serious penalties even without a history of prior offenses.  For an example, take a look at the penalties for sexual assault with no criminal history, or for DWI in New Jersey with no prior offenses.
  • The defendant did not cause, or threaten to cause, serious harm to the victim of the crime.
  • The defendant was unaware of the possibility that his or her actions could potentially “cause or threaten serious harm.”
  • The victim was responsible for “inducing” the crime, or making the crime easier.
  • The crime appears to be a one-time incident based on unusual “circumstances [that are] unlikely to recur.”
  • The defendant’s overall attitude and demeanor suggest that he or she is a low risk for reoffending.
  • The defendant was cooperative with the police.
  • While this mitigating factor highlights the value of being calm and respectful when dealing with law enforcement, it is still wise to exercise your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  You should not volunteer information to the police, or agree to a consent search when asked.  Keep in mind that lying to the police is a crime.
  • The defendant acted due to a “strong provocation” by the victim.
  • The defendant’s own mental state does not constitute “provocation” in this context.
  • The defendant reimbursed the victim (e.g. paying for repairs after committing an act of vandalism), or is participating in community service.
  • The defendant seems to be a good candidate for probation.
  • The defendant is young and was significantly “influenced” by an older person.
  • Sentencing the defendant to prison would constitute an “excessive hardship” for the defendant and/or his or her children or other dependents.  Prison is always a hardship, so the question here lies in whether such hardship would be undue and unreasonable.
  • There are “substantial grounds” that would “excuse or justify” the way the defendant acted.

While these factors do not legally excuse a defendant’s actions, and will not undo or prevent a conviction, they can make the defendant’s sentence substantially shorter if he or she is found guilty.  That many of these factors are somewhat open to interpretation emphasizes the importance of being represented by a skilled defense lawyer, such as those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych.  An experienced attorney will analyze your case closely to strategize a way to emphasize any mitigating factors that may have been involved in the offense.

Schedule Your Free Consultation with Our Cape May County Defense Lawyers

The Cape May criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych have over 45 years of experience representing people charged with felonies and disorderly persons offenses in Cape May County and Atlantic County.  We handle a wide array of serious criminal charges on behalf of adult and juvenile defendants, including DWI (driving while intoxicated), simple and aggravated assault, drug possession and distribution, gun and weapons crimes, sex crimes, theft crimes, and Atlantic City casino crimes, like pulling a false fire alarm at a casino.

Call our law offices at (609) 616-4956 to set up a free and confidential legal consultation.  We know it’s not easy to confront criminal charges, but it’s in your best interests to retain a criminal lawyer as soon as possible.  We are here to provide support, protect your rights, and fight the accusations against you.

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