Downgrading Charges in NJ Criminal Cases
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in New Jersey, the best possible outcome for your case is if the charges against you are completely dismissed. However, when dismissal of your charges is unattainable or unlikely, another way to avoid a potential conviction for a serious offense is to have the charges against you downgraded. Having your charges downgraded means that the prosecution has agreed to charge you will a less serious offense than the one you were originally charged with. This is beneficial to your case because lesser offenses involve lesser penalties, allowing you the chance to serve less or no time in prison, not pay as much in fines, potentially not be classified as a “felon”, and a possibly avoid a criminal record altogether. Here are the details on getting criminal charges downgraded in New Jersey. For additional information and to find out if this may apply in your case, contact the Edison office of Proetta & Oliver at (732) 659-9600 to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Can my criminal charge be downgraded?
A charge against you can typically be downgraded at the discretion of the prosecutor, with the exception of a few statutory limitations for offenses like driving while intoxicated. If you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer in New Jersey, they may be able to negotiate a plea agreement with the prosecution under which the prosecutor agrees to downgrade your charges and charge you with a lesser offense. Typically, this agreement with involve you pleading guilty to the lesser charge and being sentenced to reduced penalties.
Your attorney may be able to get the prosecution to agree to downgraded charges by pointing out the weaknesses in their case against you and emphasizing the insufficiency of the evidence to secure a conviction for the original charges. If the prosecution believes they do not have enough evidence to get a conviction against you, they may be likely to agree to a plea agreement that involves downgrading the charges against you. Your attorney can also point to the fact that you have no prior criminal record, the circumstances surrounding the charges, and other factors to influence the prosecutor to downgrade your charges.
Can my felony charge be downgraded to a non-felony?
New Jersey criminal law does not classify offenses as felonies or non-felonies, but rather indictable offenses—akin to felonies in other states—and disorderly persons offenses—like misdemeanors. If you have been charged with a fourth, third, second, or first degree indictable offense in New Jersey, you are facing potential prison time of one year or longer. Being convicted of an indictable offense can have a significantly negative impact on your ability to pass a background check for employment purposes and can disqualify you from many other opportunities in life.
If your original charge was for an indictable offense and it is downgraded to a disorderly persons offense, your case will be transferred from the county superior court to the municipal court in the town or city where you were charged. Sometimess, this will occur at your Central Judicial Processing (CJP) hearing. In other cases, your attorney can negotiate for a downgrading of the charges during your Pre-Indictment Conference. A few examples of charges that may be able to be downgraded include:
- Resisting arrest
- Fourth degree criminal mischief
- Shoplifting between $200 and $500 worth of merchandise
- Possession of small amounts of drugs like cocaine and prescription medications
It is important to note that if the downgraded offense was one of multiple charges arising from a single occurrence that includes other indictable offenses, your case will remain in the superior court and the offense that was downgraded to a disorderly persons offense will be heard together with the other charges by a superior court judge.
Can a disorderly persons offense be downgraded?
A municipal charge or a disorderly persons offense can also be downgraded at the prosecutor’s discretion to a non-criminal municipal ordinance violation. One exception to this is DWI offenses, which are technically classified as traffic violations. New Jersey law prohibits prosecutors from downgrading DWI charges and courts are barred from imposing lesser penalties on those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. DWI charges can only be dismissed by a judge based on an issue with the evidence, after a trial where the judge finds the defendant not guilty, or based on the recommendation of the prosecutor.
Previously, New Jersey prosecutors in Municipal Court were also prohibited from downgrading criminal charges for marijuana possession to municipal ordinances. Since the recent directive from the New Jersey Attorney General, municipal prosecutors can now downgrade or dismiss cases involving possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana, at their discretion. This provides criminal defense attorneys with yet another way to help clients arrested for marijuana to avoid a criminal conviction on their record.
Need an Attorney for Help Getting Criminal Charges Reduced
If is very uncommon for a prosecutor to downgrade the charges against you unless they are persuaded by compelling arguments from a skilled defense attorney. Therefore, it is crucial to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer in who can advocate on your behalf, point out the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case against you, and successfully negotiate to have your charges reduced. If you have been charged with an indictable offense or a disorderly persons offense in Middlesex County, New Jersey, contact our firm today at (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation. One of our lawyers is available to discuss your specific case and your options. We have helped many clients in New Brunswick, Edison, Woodbridge, Piscataway, Monroe Township, South Amboy, and throughout the Middlesex County area, and we can explain if downgrading your charges may be a possibility.