When Can the Appeals Court Modify a Sentence in NJ?

  • Criminal Defense

Can You Get Your Sentence Changed in New Jersey?

If you are convicted of a crime in New Jersey, the court will hand down a sentence. The court must follow some laws that offer guidelines on sentencing, but those laws are designed to allow judges some flexibility in many cases.

Sometimes, that flexibility and the range of sentencing options allowed under the law can work in a defendant’s favor. If your criminal defense attorney is able to make a case for mitigating factors or demonstrate the fact that a conviction is your first run-in with the law, a judge may show leniency. That can result in the lowest possible sentence.

This isn’t always the case, though. In some situations, the flexibility may work against you, and you might end up with the harshest possible sentence. Whether you are accused of drug crimes or are facing any other type of charges, a strong criminal defense can help mitigate such issues. If you are convicted and sentenced, though, it may not be the last word in the matter.

How Do Criminal Courts Decide on Sentences in New Jersey?

Courts consider a variety of information presented during your trial or other criminal defense proceedings when deciding on a sentence for any convictions. Some factors that may be considered include:

  • The role and motivation of the defendant in the crime
  • The severity of harm to the victim or victims
  • The vulnerability of the victim and whether the defendant was aware of it—such as if the victim was a young child or an elder
  • Any prior criminal record of the defendant
  • What type of crime is involved in the matter
  • Whether the court believes the defendant is likely to commit crimes again
  • Whether the defendant was provoked into the actions that led to the crime
  • Whether the defendant has compensated any victims in the crime
  • Whether options such as probation or community service are possible and the court believes the outcome would be positive
  • Whether or not imprisonment might create excessive hardships for children or other dependents of the defendant

Judges are also somewhat bound by recommended sentencing requirements, which are included in New Jersey State law. For example, a specific type and level of crime might come with a recommended sentence of up to five years in prison. In such a case, a judge would look at the factors above to help determine where in that range the actual sentence would fall.

When someone is facing sentencing for a criminal conviction, they are usually allowed to make a statement to the court. If you have a criminal defense attorney, they will make this statement for you or help you draft a statement and make it yourself, if they feel it would work in your favor to do so. This statement is not meant to change the outcome of an already decided case but to provide context for a judge who is considering how to sentence you.

Can an Appellate Court Change a Sentence Decision?

Yes, an appellate court can change the outcome of a case. If you believe that your sentence is the result of a mistake in your trial, you can file an appeal. In a criminal appeal, your lawyer argues that an error was made during your trial and that it impacted the outcome. Examples of such errors include incorrect rulings by the judge or a mistake by the prosecution.

If the appeal is successful, a defendant might have their sentence changed, reduced, or overturned. However, the process of filing a criminal appeal can be complex, and there’s no guarantee of success. The New Jersey Standards for Appellate Review also provides some context about when an appeal can be filed; you can only use this option to challenge a sentence if there is an appealable judgment or order.

What Is Post-Conviction Sentence Relief?

You can also file a petition for post-conviction sentence relief if your case meets one of the following grounds:

  • During the court proceedings that led to the sentence, your federal or state constitutional rights were substantially infringed upon
  • The court didn’t have the proper jurisdiction
  • The sentence that was imposed was illegal or not authorized by law

Speak to a Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Rights

Criminal appeals and post-conviction sentence relief can be complex matters. To successfully file for either, you must meet numerous deadlines, make a strong legal case, and submit pristine paperwork. Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side for this process can be invaluable.

A lawyer can also help you understand all your rights and what options you have. This is true at any time during your criminal defense. Contacting a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after you learn there are charges against you can help you get a running start on a proactive defense—and hopefully avoid a sentence altogether.

However, if you are facing a conviction and sentence, a lawyer can still help. If you’re not happy with the outcome of your case, it may be time to talk to a new criminal defense law firm. Wherever you are in the criminal defense process, if you want a team of legal professionals who will fight to protect your rights and freedom, reach out to the Hernandez Law Firm, PC, today.

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