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Should You Ever Plead Guilty in a New Jersey Criminal Case?

January 24, 2024 | Posted In Criminal Law

If you’ve been charged with a crime in New Jersey, pleading guilty might seem like the easy way out. You won’t have to deal with going to trial, and pleading guilty will allow you to get back to your normal life as soon as possible. Right?

Wrong. As a criminal defendant in New Jersey, pleading guilty can be extremely costly. The judge isn’t going to go easy on you when it comes to sentencing, and without any evidence in your favor, the judge may have no choice but to impose the maximum sentence allowed. As a result, you may spend a significant amount of time behind bars, and when you get out, you will be forced to deal with the effects of having a criminal record for years to come—if not the rest of your life.

This makes hiring a New Jersey criminal lawyer extremely important. Before you make any decisions about how to handle your case, you need to ensure that you have a clear understanding of the risks you are facing. Pleading guilty at your arraignment could be the biggest mistake of your life, and once you plead guilty, you typically don’t get a second chance.

Why You Shouldn’t Plead Guilty in a New Jersey Criminal Case

Why shouldn’t you plead guilty at your arraignment in New Jersey? Here are five reasons not to plead guilty in your New Jersey criminal case:

1. You Might Not Be Guilty

First and foremost, even if you think you committed a crime, you might not actually be guilty. Under New Jersey law, all crimes consist of several “elements,” and prosecutors must prove all of these elements in order to secure a conviction.

In most cases, a key element of the crime is acting with some type of mental state. For example, when pursuing an assault charge, prosecutors must typically be able to prove that the defendant acted “purposely, knowingly or recklessly” under Section 2C:12-1 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes. If prosecutors cannot prove your mental state at the time the alleged crime was committed, then you do not deserve to face the life-altering consequences of a conviction.

2. Even if You Committed a Crime, You May Have Defenses Available

Now, let’s say you did commit a crime. You acted with a “criminal state of mind,” and this means that prosecutors may be able to gather the evidence they need to secure a conviction.

Even in this scenario, you may have defenses available. As a result, you should not plead guilty. For example, the police may have violated your constitutional rights when conducting a search, seizing evidence, arresting you or interrogating you in custody. Or, prosecutors may be violating your rights by withholding exculpatory evidence. If the police or prosecutors have violated your constitutional rights—which is a very real possibility—you may be entitled to have your criminal charge dismissed. This is true even if there is no question that you committed the crime at issue.

3. The State Has the Burden of Proof

In New Jersey, you are innocent until proven guilty. The state has the burden of proof, and if prosecutors cannot prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you are entitled to a “Not guilty” verdict.

This fact alone makes it worth not pleading guilty. With an experienced New Jersey criminal lawyer on your side, you can expose any and all shortcomings in the prosecution’s case. If these shortcomings mean that you don’t deserve a conviction, your lawyer may be able to help you win a “Not guilty” verdict or even a pre-trial dismissal. If the issues with the prosecution’s case warrant a lesser charge or a reduced sentence, your lawyer may be able to help you secure a favorable plea deal, as discussed in greater detail below.

4. Pleading Guilty Can Have Expensive and Lifelong Consequences

Pleading guilty to any crime in New Jersey can have expensive—and potentially lifelong—consequences. In New Jersey, all crimes carry fines and jail (or prison) time, and many carry additional penalties. Having a criminal conviction on your record can also prevent you from landing a job, and it can have immigration, military, professional and/or other collateral consequences as well. While some criminal convictions are eventually eligible for expungement in New Jersey, others will stay on your record permanently.

5. You May Be Eligible for Pretrial Intervention (PTI)

If you are facing a criminal charge in New Jersey as a first-time offender, you may be eligible for the state’s pretrial intervention (PTI) program. If you are eligible for PTI, you can avoid consequences entirely by completing the program successfully.

New Jersey’s PTI program “diverts” your criminal case from trial. While your case is diverted, you will be required to take a series of steps in order to complete the program. If you take all of these steps within the time allowed, your case will be dismissed, and “[t]here will be no record of a conviction if you complete PTI.”

Pleading Guilty vs. Plea Bargaining

Many people have misconceptions about pleading guilty and plea bargaining. They are not the same thing. If you plead guilty in court, your case will proceed directly to sentencing. Plea bargaining is done out of court and involves negotiations between the prosecution and your New Jersey criminal lawyer.

While plea bargaining does eventually involve pleading guilty, it typically involves pleading guilty to a lesser offense. This means that both the criminal penalties and the collateral consequences of your conviction will be less significant. If you committed a crime and prosecutors have the evidence they need to prove it, then seeking a plea bargain might be your best option. But you may still have other options as well, so it is critical that you speak with a New Jersey criminal lawyer before deciding on your next steps.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced New Jersey Criminal Lawyer in Confidence

We provide experienced legal representation for individuals facing criminal charges throughout New Jersey. To discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey criminal lawyer in confidence, call 877-435-6371 or contact us online today.


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