In New Jersey, laws govern what type of sentencing is appropriate in various criminal cases. The laws typically provide a minimum and maximum jail or prison sentence, if applicable, and a maximum monetary fine. In general, courts must keep sentences within these boundaries when someone is convicted of a relevant crime.
However, there are times when a judge has some discretion in how sentencing can be carried out. One of those times is when someone is a habitual, or repeat, offender of certain types of crimes. In this case, New Jersey’s three strikes law may come into play. Find out more about this law below, including whether juvenile offenses count and how a criminal defense lawyer can help.
The three strike law allows judges to sentence someone to life in prison without parole upon a third conviction for serious crimes. This level of sentencing is allowed even if the normal sentencing for the particular crime would be much less than life in prison or would allow parole.
In New Jersey, the three strikes law doesn’t call for mandatory harsher sentencing. This is true in some other states, where a third strike automatically results in harsher sentencing. In the Garden State, however, judges are given discretion and allowed to consider mitigating factors of the case before deciding if they want to hand down a harsher sentence.
Some mitigating factors that judges might consider when deciding how to sentence someone convicted of a serious crime and facing harsher penalties under the three strikes law include:
Not all crimes are subject to the three strikes law. Only those deemed particularly heinous, such as murder, sexual assault, and robbery, can be considered a strike. The list of crimes that could lead to a strike is extensive and includes offenses like arson, weapons offenses, and kidnapping in the first degree.
In 2022, the New Jersey Supreme Court made a ruling that set a precedent that juvenile crimes can be considered in the three strikes rule. That means that if you are convicted for a serious crime that would count as a strike if you were an adult, it counts as a strike when you are a juvenile, too. Judges can consider your criminal record as both a juvenile and an adult when deciding if you have enough strikes to support harsher sentencing under this law.
If you are facing criminal charges and aren’t sure whether you might receive a strike if you are convicted, talk to a criminal defense attorney about the severity of the charges and what consequences you may be facing—and, of course, what options you have for defending yourself or reducing the charges and potential sentences.
The best way to protect yourself against harsh sentences is with a strong criminal defense that avoids a conviction altogether. An experienced criminal defense attorney can work with you to create a strategy for defense and help you understand how likely a win is in court. They may also work with you to demonstrate your defense to prosecutors, who may decide to drop charges even before going to trial.
When these outcomes are not likely, your defense attorney can help you understand what other options you might have. In some cases, it might be best to negotiate with the prosecution to reduce charges to something less serious that wouldn’t count as a strike. This might be a good strategy if the evidence is stacked against you and you are unlikely to end up with a not guilty verdict in court.
The criminal justice system is complex, and there isn’t always a single path to success for defendants caught up within it. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can help you navigate the system and protect your rights and your future.
If you are convicted of a crime serious enough to warrant a strike under the New Jersey law, you typically are stuck with that strike. You don’t, for example, get to erase a strike after a certain number of years of good behavior. This means that criminal activity from earlier in your life can stick with you and be a factor in criminal justice decisions even decades later.
However, there are some instances in which a strike might be removed or made null. If a crime is expunged from your record, it may not count against you in the future. Likewise, if you are convicted of a serious crime and that conviction is overturned on appeal or for another reason, that strike may be removed too.
Every criminal charge you face is serious. Work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect yourself now and safeguard your future. Don’t wait until you’re facing a third serious strike and the potential end to your freedom in this life; contact the Hernandez Law Firm, P.C., for help as soon as you’re charged with a crime.