A person can be charged with a crime in New Jersey even if no actual crime took place. This can happen in one of two ways. The first is to be charged with Criminal Conspiracy (2C:5-2)—in other words, a person who planned with another person to commit a crime.
The other is Criminal Attempt. For example, a person can be accused of attempting to commit Burglary even if it is shown that the act of burgling never happened. This can be shocking and confusing to someone who had no intention of wrongdoing. It is important to understand what is considered Criminal Attempt in New Jersey, and what can be done to defend against such a charge.
What is Criminal Attempt?
New Jersey considers Criminal Attempt any effort or act that a reasonable person might see as a substantial step toward committing a crime. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1, a person is guilty of attempting to commit a crime if he/she:
- Purposely engages in conduct which would constitute the crime if the circumstances were as a reasonable person would believe them to be;
- Purposely does or does not do something with the purpose of causing a crime to occur;
- Purposely does or does not do something which a reasonable person would believe is a “substantial step” toward the commission of a crime.
For example, suppose a person in a store who walks past the registers and heads toward the door with goods that haven’t been purchased. He can be reasonably believed to have attempted Shoplifting. Likewise, a person who is caught trying to enter a home through an unlocked window and is carrying an empty backpack and/or weapon can be reasonably believed to have attempted burglary.
Penalties and Fines
New Jersey sentencing guidelines dictate that the punishment for Criminal Attempt be the same as the offense the person is accused of trying to commit. In other words, a person charged with attempting to commit second-degree Robbery will face the penalties for second-degree Robbery (i.e. up to 10 years in prison).
It should be noted that a person can only be charged with Criminal Attempt for indictable offenses (i.e. felonies) in New Jersey. A person cannot be charged with attempting to commit a disorderly persons offense unless the specific statute indicates as much.
How to Beat Criminal Attempt Charges
The most common way to beat a charge of Criminal Attempt is called renunciation of criminal purpose. This means the person abandoned the effort to commit the crime. To use this defense, a person must show by a “preponderance of evidence” that he/she either gave up the effort or took steps to prevent the crime from occurring.
This will not apply to all cases. Other times, it may be more effective to prevent the prosecution from proving the specific intent to commit a crime. If evidence of the supposed Criminal Attempt was gathered illegally or the arrest was improper, it may be possible to get the charges dismissed.
Only an attorney will know when it is best to use the renunciation defense or another strategy. Anyone charged with Criminal Attempt should contact a criminal defense attorney right away to discuss the case.
Consequences for a First Offense
A person who has never been convicted of a crime and is now being charged with Criminal Attempt has the leverage to argue for a lighter sentence or probation only. Whether or not he/she will receive it will depend on many factors, however.
Firstly, it depends on the offense he/she is accused of trying to commit. For example, attempting third-degree Robbery would be considered more serious than attempting fourth-degree Criminal Mischief (i.e. vandalism).
Secondly, a judge will take into account a person’s motive for the supposed crime and his/her attitude in court. A defendant who is polite and respectful may get more leniency from a judge than someone who is belligerent or seemingly indifferent to the situation.
Thirdly, it will depend on the quality of the arguments made by the attorney. A talented attorney can negotiate for a gentler or deferred sentence based on the client’s background, family or personal history, and the possibility of rehabilitation outside of prison.
Consequences for Juveniles
Sometimes young kids and teens push limits, joke around, or commit acts with no intention of doing anything truly wrong. When things go too far, however, a juvenile in New Jersey can be charged with Criminal Attempt.
Criminal Attempt charges can be particularly confusing for young people who can honestly say they committed no crime. It is critical that any parent or guardian whose child has been charged with attempting a crime speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The attorney can help the child and parents see how the actions could be construed as a violation of the law.
More importantly, they can work hard to convince prosecutors and Family Court judges that the child had no ill intent and that his/her actions never amounted to a criminal act or criminal intent.
A child facing a possible conviction also needs an attorney who can aggressively argue for a sentence that caters to the emotional needs of the child. An appropriate sentence—one with little or no time in detention and which focuses on counseling and community service—can reduce the chance of a child reoffending.
Enrolling in NJ Diversionary Programs
For those with little or no criminal history, it may be possible to avoid a trial and/or conviction by enrolling in a diversionary program. One of the more common programs is Pre-Trial Intervention, although there are others that may apply depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s history.
The purpose of a diversionary program is to offer an alternative to prison and a chance to truly rehabilitate, thus reducing the chances of reoffending. Programs may include counseling, drug testing, community service, or even job training. They can last between 6 months and 3 years, during which time the person must avoid any further run-ins with police.
Those who successfully complete most diversionary programs in New Jersey can have the charges against them dropped.
A diversionary program is not always the best option. Enrollment is limited and even those who meet all the necessary qualifications are not guaranteed to be admitted. It is best to consult with an attorney to discuss all possible defense options.
Expunging Criminal Attempt Convictions
Those with minor criminal records may have the option of petitioning the court to expunge (i.e. clear) their criminal records. To do this, a person must have been convicted of only one indictable offense (felony) and no more than 3 disorderly persons offenses. Alternatively, a person with no felony convictions and no more than 5 disorderly persons offenses can also apply.
Keep in mind that serious crimes, such as Aggravated Sexual Assault, Kidnapping, and Murder can render a person ineligible for expungement. Criminal Attempt convictions can be expunged provided the crime in question is not a disqualifying offense.
Although New Jersey has been attempting to make expunging a criminal record easier—including allowing the process to be done online—it is best to speak to an attorney before filing the petition. An attorney can help assess one’s eligibility. Further, an attorney can help with the paperwork to ensure that there are no mistakes that could lead to an unjustified rejection.
Frequently Asked Questions
Criminal Attempt in New Jersey – NJSA 2C:5-1
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been cited for Criminal Attempt or any other offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people in similar situations. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.