What it Means to Downgrade Your NJ Criminal Charges
Why Downgrading Charges may be the Best Result in Your NJ Criminal Case
In New Jersey, like every other state, there are several classes of potential criminal charges. The most severe of these are referred to as “crimes” or “indictable offenses.” The level below encompasses disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses. Below criminal offenses is a category known as municipal ordinance violations, which do not result in a criminal conviction on your record.
Each of these levels of crimes has its own rules, procedures, and even potential consequences of a conviction. It is important to know and understand each level of criminal offense if you have been arrested. Likewise, there may be an option to reduce the penalties you’re facing by having your charges downgraded to a lesser offense. Downgrading – or reducing – criminal charges is explained in greater detail below.
Can I Reduce the Possible Penalties of a Criminal Offense in NJ?
When you “downgrade,” charges, that means that you, your attorney, and the prosecutor have agreed to treat a crime as an offense, or an offense as an infraction. This is beneficial to a criminal defendant’s case because the penalties are far less severe if any offense is reduced to another that has less harsh consequences than the one you were originally arrested for.
A crime, for example, includes any offense that might have a consequence of having more than 364 days in State prison. An offense, on the other hand, has a maximum amount of jail time of six months. The time spent is also in a local county jail instead of state prison when dealing with disorderly persons offenses as opposed to felony crimes.
An example of downgrading charges would be to get a criminal charge for aggravated assault reduced to simple assault. Similarly, a criminal charge for disorderly conduct may be downgraded to a municipal ordinance (basically a ticket) to avoid a criminal conviction on your record.
Can my NJ Criminal Charges be Downgraded?
Whether a charge can be downgraded is up to the discretion of the prosecutor. However, there are a few charges that cannot be lowered, such as driving under the influence (DWI/DUI). Otherwise, there are many charges can be downgraded. In most situations, charges are downgraded as a result of a plea deal. That is, you agree to plead guilty to the lesser offense instead of having to go to trial on the more serious charge and face the potential for a longer time in jail and higher fines.
However, your New Jersey criminal defense attorney may also attempt to talk the prosecutor into downgrading the charges by pointing out problems in their case. They might also point out good things about your character or lack of criminal history in an effort to reach an agreement to downgrade the charges. Nonetheless, the prosecutor will rarely voluntarily downgrade the case unless it becomes very clear that they will not get a conviction against you if they move forward with the more serious charge.
When will Downgrading Happen in my Criminal Case in New Jersey?
If your indictable charge is downgraded to a disorderly persons offense, your case will be moved from the superior court to the municipal court (remanded). Sometimes, downgrading can occur very early to avoid having to go through the upper court for the charge in question. In some cases, reducing a criminal charge can occur as soon as the Central Judicial Processing hearing. It may also happen at a Pre-indictment Conference, also known as an Early Disposition Conference in New Jersey.
When you have more than one charge, downgrading one may not have much effect on the others. If one of the crimes is still considered an indictable offense, then you will likely stay in county superior court, even if one of the charges could be moved to municipal court. This allows all of the issues be heard together instead of having to have separate hearings and trials related to the same incident.
Get Help Downgrading Your Offense after Being Arrested
Downgrading an offense can be a great option for those who have been charged with serious crimes, especially those that may be just over the limit of a disorderly persons offense. For example, some drug possession charges and shoplifting of just over the $200 limit may be good candidates for downgrading. The team of criminal defense lawyers at our firm can be a great asset in getting your charges downgraded, as we do it for clients on a regular basis throughout Sussex and Warren County. Learn more by giving us a call today at 973.755.1695. Consultations are provided free.
Here’s an example of a recent case we handled in Hackettstown: Penalties Downgraded Thanks to the Tormey Law Firm