New Jersey’s burglary offenses do not have any automatic upgrades for a second or third offense. While this is good news if you are accused of a second or subsequent offense, it also means that a first offense does not get any lighter treatment. If you were charged with a first-time burglary crime, it is important to talk to an attorney about your case. Especially if this is the first offense on your criminal record, you may be able to reduce penalties and avoid jail time. For a free consultation on your first offense burglary charges, call the Atlantic City burglary defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today.
Burglary Offense Grading for First Offenders
Burglary is a very serious crime. In many states, it is considered a felony offense. New Jersey uses a different name for these kinds of crimes, referring to them as “indictable crimes.” There are 4 levels of indictable crime in NJ, known as first degree through fourth degree crimes, with first degree being the worst. The New Jersey penalties for burglary either grade burglary as a second or third degree crime, even for first offenses.
The general crime of burglary involves entering or remaining in a place with the purpose of committing a crime inside. It can be a building, a separate part of a building, or even utility company property. If the government can prove you did these things, then you can be convicted for burglary under N.J.S.A. § 2C:18-2.
For the crime to be a second degree crime, there must be more extreme conduct. Specifically, it becomes a second degree crime if you either:
- Attempt or threaten to inflict harm on someone, or
- You are armed with a deadly weapon or explosives (or something that looks like a weapon or explosives).
If the government can prove either of these factors, the crime is upgraded to a second degree crime. Otherwise, any other burglary offense is a third degree crime.
A second degree crime is the second highest level of crime in NJ, and comes with the possibility of 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000. For a third degree crime of burglary, you could face 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000. These fines don’t include court costs and other fees that you may be charged on any criminal case, which could add hundreds of dollars (or more) to the overall cost of a burglary conviction.
Lowering Burglary Penalties in New Jersey
If you are charged with burglary, you may not always face these strict consequences. The crime of burglary is defined in a way that captures a wide range of conduct, some of which is not particularly bad. For instance, walking into the back room of a store to steal something would fully qualify as burglary. Not every crime is as bad as it seems, and New Jersey’s sentencing guidelines allow judges to reduce penalties when appropriate.
In many cases of first-time offenders or less severe crimes, you may be able to avoid the burglary conviction entirely. Judges and prosecutors are not usually out to ensure you go to prison and have a record forever, and they may be willing to reduce the charges. If your lawyer can arrange a plea agreement, you may be able to plead to a much lower offense like trespassing or theft instead of facing the burglary conviction.
Alternatively, a judge may be willing to reduce the sentence for a first-time conviction. Though the law calls for 3-5 years or 5-10 years in prison, you may never have to see the inside of a prison cell. In some cases, judges and prosecutors will see probation as an adequate punishment. Probation allows the judge to sentence you to some amount of jail time, but then suspend that sentence. This lets you stay out of jail as long as you follow certain requirements and check in with a probation officer (PO). As long as you maintain a job or stay in school, check in with your PO, avoid drugs, and avoid committing other crimes, (among other terms) you may complete probation without being sent to prison. However, breaking any probation terms can mean going straight to jail and serving the full sentence.
Atlantic City, NJ First Time Burglary Defense Lawyers
Talk to an attorney today about what options are available on your case. If your attorney can beat the charges against you, you can avoid conviction entirely. If you can arrange reduced charges or probation, you may be able to avoid some of the stricter penalties for burglary. Especially if this is your first offense, judges and prosecutors may be willing to work with you to prevent future crimes, rather than simply punish you. For a free consultation on your first-time burglary charges, contact an Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (609) 616-4956.