An attorney can sometimes negotiate a lower fine. Sometimes, however, a higher fine is preferable if the attorney is able to negotiate a reduction in the charges, a shorter license suspension or less or no jail time in exchange for a higher fine.
There have been situations in which we have been able to negotiate a plea bargain to a town ordinance violation instead of an offense under the Title 2C (the New Jersey Criminal Code). Thus, the tradeoff for not having the criminal offense on your record is that the prosecutor might ask for a $1,000 fine, for example. With the criminal offense, on the other hand, he or she might have asked for a $500 fine.
Attorneys can help lower fines in certain situations, but more importantly, they can help with reducing the charges against you. Therefore, although you might have a higher fine, the outcome overall would be better for you. After all, being convicted of the criminal offense might interfere with your job prospects or have other collateral consequences.
Having an ordinance violation with the higher fine might hurt more at the outset because of the financial burden, but without a criminal record, it may be easier to find certain types of employment.
Why Is It Worth Hiring An Attorney If The Case Simply Requires Paying Fines?
No case simply requires paying fines. The fines are the consequence of a finding of guilt, whether through a guilty plea or after a verdict at trial. Regardless of the kind of charge, the State still has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If you hire an attorney, you are paying someone with experience in the criminal justice system to evaluate your case and help you to achieve the best result possible under your particular circumstances. Most lay people would not be able to walk in with a criminal charge, speak with a prosecutor, and negotiate a good deal for themselves. Lay people don’t know how to defend themselves. They don’t know all the ins and outs of the law, the Constitution, or how to critically review discovery to determine whether the State has enough evidence to convict or whether any motions need to be filed. That’s why they need an attorney.
Part of being a good attorney is looking at all the issues in a case and bringing those issues to the attention of the prosecutor. The prosecutor, in turn, may have a different view, which is okay. That’s how the system works. If the prosecutor and the defense attorney can’t come to an agreement, your attorney might file a motion, hire an expert, or the case may go to trial. An attorney is also able to plea bargain much more effectively than a person who is representing himself.
A lot of people think that they are innocent and therefore the truth is on their side and things will all work out the right way if they just tell the police or the prosecutor the truth and explain everything to them, but that kind of thinking is fantastical and naïve. In the vast majority of cases, if you are charged with a crime, the police had probable cause to charge you. In order for there to be probable cause, there has to be at least some evidence that tends to show that you committed the crime. Believing that because you didn’t do what the police are saying you did, things will just all work out in the end, or that somehow you look guilty by hiring an attorney is foolish. If you are charged with a crime, you need an attorney to represent you, period.
Can An Attorney Give An Idea Of How Much the Fine Will Be At The First Meeting With The Client?
Yes, absolutely. I tell anybody who calls or meets with me what the potential fines are.
If they were charged with a disorderly person’s offense, then the maximum fine would be $1,000, although additional penalties and costs are imposed on certain types of cases, like drug cases.
Someone who was fined the maximum amount for a drug conviction might pay closer to $2,000. When people call, I give them the worst-case scenario in terms of the money, because it is better to be prepared for the worst financial scenario than to be completely unprepared. However, in most cases defendants do not receive the maximum fine.
People are usually worried about fines for indictable offenses too, and there are maximum statutory fines for each degree of indictable offense but they are rarely, if ever, imposed. Those fines are as follows: first degree, $200,000; second degree, $150,000; third degree, $15,000; and fourth degree, $10,000.
People convicted of indictable offenses usually only pay the required penalties, such the lab fee, the safe neighborhood fee, and some court costs. People who are convicted of economic crimes and owe restitution would have that imposed as well. I have never seen anyone be fined for the actual conviction in Superior Court, but it is authorized by statute so it is possible.
Is It A Good Idea To Hire An Attorney If Someone Felt Overwhelmed With The Responsibility of Complying with their Sentence?
An attorney should be hired at the beginning of a case, not at the end. If someone has been sentenced and is overwhelmed by all the things they have to do to comply with the sentence, or doesn’t understand how to go about complying with it, having an attorney is of course very helpful. But most attorneys don’t just come into a case after it has ended to help a person arrange counseling, or tell them when to pay off the fine, etc. If you have a probation officer, they can help you with those types of things.
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