When you are charged with a crime, it can sound serious – but in many cases, you will not be convicted of that crime. Ultimately, there may be plenty of reasons prosecutors will reduce or drop charges. Being charged with a crime just means that the police think you committed that crime, or that the current situation seems to fit. What the police think happened and what they can prove in court are often very different. This is where a criminal defense attorney’s role can really help you. An experienced criminal defense attorney like those at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych might be able to help get charges dropped or reduced, or beat the charges altogether.
Charges Don’t Always Fit the Facts
To convict you of a crime, police and prosecutors need to prove that your conduct violated each element of the law. Some crimes have complicated elements, and proving each element can be difficult. Sometimes, the initial situation appears worse than it was, but police and prosecutors find out later that the charges do not actually fit.
In order to charge you with a crime, police need enough evidence to show that there is “probable cause” that you committed the crime. This is not a clear level, but was defined in the NJ Superior Court case Galafaro v. Kuenstler in 1959 as “a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficient to warrant an ordinarily prudent person in believing the party is guilty of the offense. It must be more than mere conjecture or unfounded suspicion.”
This means that probable cause doesn’t have a clear percentage of certainty, but is still an objective standard. Using the standard of a “reasonable person” ensures that probable cause is not defined by each individual police officer, but a uniform standard. Additionally, there need to be actual facts police can point to to justify charging you with a crime. At a preliminary hearing, police or prosecutors need to be able to prove that the facts of your case have enough probable cause to charge you with a crime. Otherwise, charges are dismissed by the judge.
When it comes to proving charges at trial, the standard is much higher. All elements of a crime must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” – the highest level of proof required under the law. This means that if prosecutors know that they cannot prove certain facts, they will drop charges, or charge a lesser form of the offense. For instance, in deciding between charging theft and robbery, if police can prove you stole something, but cannot prove you used force, they may reduce the robbery charge to theft.
Reducing Charges as a Bargaining Tool
Often, when police charge you with a crime, they charge multiple offenses. Sometimes, the crimes go hand in hand. For instance, if you are charged with marijuana possession, you will likely be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia for any containers, wrappers, or smoking devices. Similarly, if you are charged with theft, you will likely be charged with receiving stolen property (RSP) if you still had the stolen property. Sometimes, the conduct you performed may fit under multiple crimes. For instance, starting a fight might be an assault, but it would also technically fit under some forms of disorderly conduct, a much lighter offense.
Sometimes prosecutors will drop charges in exchange for your guilty plea. Pleading guilty to a crime may seem like bad advice, but it is sometimes the best way to reduce the overall impact your crime has on your life. For instance, in a situation where the potential punishments involve a criminal record, jail time, and heavy fines, pleading to a lesser offense may save you the extra punishment.
Prosecutors may offer to drop some offenses in exchange for a plea to another crime. Alternatively, because a crime may be hard to prove or require expensive investigation, you may save the justice system time and money by pleading guilty. The offer to plead guilty may persuade prosecutors to reduce your charges.
These kinds of tools are important for the strongest criminal defense, but they are also vital to prosecutors. A plea bargain may reduce your overall sentence, even if you actually committed the crime. At the same time, it saves jurors and taxpayers time and money. Always talk to an attorney about a plea offer, so you can understand your rights.
You do have the right to a trial in any criminal charge, and the decision of whether to accept a plea or face trial is ultimately your decision – not your attorney’s. At the same time, defendants are not offered a plea deal in every case, and relying upon a plea offer is not a good strategy.
New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys
If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, it is important to see how your charges could be dropped or reduced. If you need a lawyer, consider calling the defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 today for a free consultation.