Being charged with fraud can mean different things under different circumstances. There are many different forms of fraud, and, in New Jersey, fraud crimes can range from disorderly persons offenses to third-degree indictable crimes. However, regardless of the circumstances of your case, you need an experienced New Jersey fraud lawyer, and there is a lot you need to know.
Here are five important facts about facing fraud charges in New Jersey:
1. The Penalties for Fraud Can Be Substantial
If you have been charged with a fraud crime under New Jersey law, the penalties you face depend on the specific type of fraud you have been charged with. As noted above, some fraud crimes are disorderly person offenses. These carry a maximum sentence of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. However, other fraud crimes can be prosecuted as indictable offenses, and these crimes can carry up to a $15,000 fine and five years behind bars.
When charged as an indictable offense under New Jersey law, the penalties for fraud can include the following:
- Fourth-Degree Indictable Offenses: Up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine
- Third-Degree Indictable Offenses: Three to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine
If you are being charged with fraud in federal court, the penalties you are facing could be far more severe. For example, under the federal mail and wire fraud statutes, 18 U.S.C. Sections 1341 and 1343, a conviction in federal court can potentially carry up to 30 years of imprisonment and a $1 million fine. Other federal fraud statutes also carry severe penalties, including those that criminalize healthcare fraud, internet fraud, mortgage fraud, securities fraud, and tax fraud—among others.
Along with these statutory penalties, a fraud conviction can have numerous other negative consequences. For example, having any type of fraud conviction on your criminal record can limit your education, employment, and housing options, and fraud convictions can result in the loss of voting rights, parental rights, and other rights as well. True of any conviction.
2. There are Several Possible Defenses to Fraud Charges
From insufficient evidence to violations of your constitutional rights, there are several possible defenses to fraud charges in New Jersey criminal court. As a result, while you should never assume that you are innocent (and thus fail to take your case seriously), you also should not assume that you will be found guilty. A New Jersey fraud lawyer will be able to evaluate a variety of potential defense strategies and pursue the strategy (or strategies) that make the most sense, given the circumstances of your case.
While trying to prove your innocence is one way to defend against a fraud charge in state or federal court, you do not need to prove your innocence to avoid a conviction. The prosecution has the burden of proof, so all you need to do is raise a “reasonable doubt” as to whether you committed the crime in question. Of course, this is typically easier said than done. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the types of defense strategies your lawyer may be able to use to create reasonable doubt about your guilt include:
- Arguing your constitutional rights to keep illegally obtained, or withheld, evidence out of court; and,
- Show that even with all of the evidence they have against you, prosecutors have still not proven each element of the alleged offense.
With each of these defense strategies, your attorney may be able to assert a variety of specific defenses on your behalf. There are a variety of potential ways to defend against fraud charges in New Jersey, and the key to executing a successful defense strategy is to identify the strongest defenses in light of the facts and circumstances of your case. Some examples of defenses your attorney may be able to use to protect you include:
- Authorization – Many fraud crimes involve unauthorized access to, or unauthorized use of, someone else’s money or property. If you had authorization, or even if you believed that you had authorization, this may mean that you are entitled to a “not guilty” verdict in court.
- Lack of Intent – Intent is a key element of the prosecution’s case in many fraud cases. If prosecutors cannot prove that you had intent to defraud, this alone may be enough to avoid a conviction.
- Mistaken Identity – If the police incorrectly identified you as the perpetrator instead of someone else, or if it is even possible that this is the case, this can also serve as a complete defense to fraud charges in New Jersey.
- Unconstitutional Search or Seizure – If the police conducted a search or seized evidence in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, then all of the prosecution’s evidence against you could be inadmissible in court.
3. Many Fraud Defenses are Charge-Specific
While some defenses (such as asserting a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights) apply to all types of fraud charges, other defenses are charge-specific. For example, if you have been charged with bank fraud or credit card fraud, you will be able to assert different defenses than if you were facing charges for insurance fraud or health care fraud. To make sure you fight your fraud charge (or charges) by all means available, you will need to work closely with an experienced New Jersey fraud lawyer who knows how to use the law to your advantage.
To determine which defenses to use on your behalf, your lawyer will need to review all relevant records, and your lawyer will need to rely on you to provide complete and accurate information about the facts involved. Based on the information you provide, your lawyer may also seek to gather evidence from various other sources. Your attorney can also use the discovery process to obtain the prosecution’s evidence. But building a successful defense starts with you, and it is extremely important for you to be truthful with your lawyer about all aspects of your case.
When building your defense, your attorney will also focus on the “elements” of the specific fraud crime with which you have been charged. The “elements” of a crime are the specific facts prosecutors need to prove in order to secure a conviction. New Jersey law establishes several different fraud crimes, including:
- Bank fraud
- Bankruptcy fraud
- Credit card fraud
- Insurance fraud
- Internet fraud
- Mail fraud
- Tax fraud
- Wire fraud
- Unemployment fraud
- Welfare fraud
Once your attorney identifies the specific fraud charge (or fraud charges) you are facing, your attorney can then identify the charge-specific defenses you have available.
4. You Need to Be Careful to Protect Yourself
When facing fraud charges, you need to be very careful to protect yourself. Among other things, this means asserting your right to remain silent, not posting anything about your case on social media, and making sure you appear in court on time.
You also need to be very careful to make informed decisions. Even small mistakes can have big consequences when facing fraud charges in state or federal court. To ensure that you are making informed decisions, you should work closely with your defense lawyer throughout your case, and you should not hesitate to contact your lawyer if you have questions about what you should or shouldn’t be doing to maximize your chances of a favorable result. Even if you have strong defenses available, you could lose your ability to argue those defenses if you make mistakes during the pretrial process.
5. Avoiding a Conviction Won’t Be Easy
Finally, even if you have strong defenses available, avoiding a conviction won’t be easy. The prosecutors assigned to your case will be doing everything they can to convict you, and you will need to avoid costly miscues as you go forward. The best thing you can do is hire an experienced New Jersey fraud lawyer, and it is strongly in your best interests to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
When you hire a lawyer to handle your criminal fraud case in New Jersey, your lawyer will:
- Conduct an Independent Investigation – When facing criminal fraud charges, you need to have as much evidence in your favor as possible. This means conducting an independent investigation and not relying solely on the evidence that the police have turned over to prosecutors.
- File Motions to Exclude Irrelevant and Illegally Obtained Evidence – Prosecutors will frequently rely on evidence that is irrelevant or that was illegally obtained to build their cases. Your lawyer can fight to make sure this does not happen.
- Negotiate a Plea Deal, if Warranted – If the facts of your case are such that avoiding a conviction at trial is unlikely, your lawyer may recommend seeking a plea deal. If you decide to seek a plea deal, your lawyer can negotiate with prosecutors on your behalf.
- Fight Your Fraud Charge (or Charges) at Trial – If you have strong defenses available, your lawyer can fight your fraud charge (or charges) at trial. Your lawyer will work to prevent the prosecution from meeting its burden of proof, and, if necessary, your lawyer will fight to secure a reduced sentence.
Schedule a Confidential Consultation with a New Jersey Fraud Lawyer
Were you arrested for fraud in New Jersey? If so, our New Jersey fraud lawyers can help. To get started with a confidential initial consultation, call 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can reach you online now.
Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.