Negotiating a Sentence
When a defendant in a criminal case is found guilty, either after a trial or following a guilty plea, the sentence is always decided by the judge in the case. However, sentencing is incredibly complicated and judges are bound to follow a combination of Statutes and Court Rules. In some instances, such as crimes in the first and second degree, a judge is largely required to sentence a defendant to a term in New Jersey State Prison.
In other cases, the Judge has the discretion to sentence a defendant to a term of probation, payment of a fine, community service or other punishment.
Of course, a competent criminal defense attorney always advocates for the best possible result for their client under the circumstances. However, even in cases where the evidence is strong and the prosecutor can prove a defendant is guilty of the crime charged, an attorney should still forcefully advocate in negotiations to obtain the least punitive sentence possible.
An experienced legal team will gather evidence applicable to the case, understand the factors that may impact your sentencing and determine ways to reduce potential penalties.
For example, even in first or second-degree crimes, the judge has the discretion to lower the sentence by one degree when mitigating factors significantly outweigh aggravating factors, thereby reducing the sentence.
Reasons to File an Appeal
If you and your legal team believe the outcome of a case was unfair due to a legal error during the proceedings, you may appeal to a higher court. Appeals are commonly filed for the following reasons:
- Evidence was presented that resulted from an unlawful search and seizure
- A motion to suppress evidence was improperly denied
- Evidence was potentially tampered with
- The jury received incorrect or improper instructions
- Expert testimony was improperly allowed or disallowed
- The judge applied the wrong law to the case
- The sentencing was unreasonable or excessive
Through a review of each phase of the trial — pre-trial motions, opening statements by each party, testimonies from witnesses, presentation of evidence, closing statements, and sentencing — your legal team can attempt to identify the basis for an appeal.
Levels of Courts in New Jersey
For charges such as disorderly persons offenses or traffic violations, the initial trial is generally decided by a judge, without a jury, in the municipal courts. Criminal cases, on the other hand, are first tried in the Law Division, and the appeal moves to the Appellate Division, where a panel of judges decides the case.
Appealing to the Supreme Court of New Jersey is permitted in certain circumstances, such as when an important constitutional issue is involved or where there is still sharp disagreement among the judges. Furthermore, cases are only appealed to the United States Supreme Court if the case has been taken all the way through New Jersey’s court system and the issue in question has federal implications.
The Process of Filing an Appeal
There are deadlines you must meet in filing an appeal. If the initial trial was held in the municipal court, you must begin the appeal with a Notice of Appeal within 20 days, but the deadline stretches to 45 days in appealing from the Law Division to the Appellate Division. For federal crimes, an appeal must be filed within 14 days.
There are exceptions to those deadlines, and defendants may receive a 30-day extension in appropriate circumstances.
It is important to remember you are not given a new trial upon appeal but instead are provided the opportunity to demonstrate how the result of the trial would have been different had the trial error in question not occurred; therefore, if an attorney failed to provide important evidence in the initial trial, he or she is unable to do so at the next level.
A successful appeal can result in the judges granting a new trial, lessening your sentence, or even ordering your release from jail. You cannot be given a more severe sentence in the appeal trial, as this would violate the constitutional protection against “double jeopardy.”
The judge will not rule the defendant “guilty” or “not guilty” but will instead either affirm or reverse the lower court ruling or rule the case to be retried.
Hire an Experienced Attorney to Appeal the Court’s Ruling
You are not required to continue with the same attorney for your appeal in your fight to change a lower court’s ruling. You need an experienced legal team representing you in the sentencing and appeals process, as an appeal provides you the opportunity to see your charges reduced or eliminated based on an unfair initial trial.
For a free consultation, contact Rosenberg | Perry & Associates, where our team will work to understand your case and provide insights into how we can fight for you in the appeals process.