Our lawyers defend people who have been charged with criminal offenses in municipal courts throughout New Jersey. Defenses are available to the accused in New Jersey municipal court. New Jersey law states that “conduct which would otherwise be an offense is justifiable by reason of necessity to the extent permitted by law.” For example, the use of force can be justifiable if the person reasonably believes that the force is immediately necessary for protecting himself or someone else in his home against somebody else’s use of unlawful force at that time. A person has reasonable belief when he was in his own home at the time and the encounter with the intruder was sudden and unexpected, compelling him to act instantly. People may also use force when they reasonably believe someone to be committing a criminal trespass on property over which they have possession or control. However, limitations exist on self-protective use of force. The use of force cannot be justified for resisting arrest or if the person fears anything short of death or serious bodily harm. Also, force is not justified if the one using force provoked the use of force against himself or if he could otherwise retreat. A person does not need to retreat from his own home, unless he was the initial aggressor. Also, force is not justifiable if the person could avoid the force by handing something over to the person asserting a claim of right to it or by complying with a demand to stop an action that he has no duty to take. In the event of protecting one’s property, before using force, the person must first ask the trespasser to stop interfering with the property, unless he reasonably believes that the request would be useless or would result in danger to himself or someone else. There are very few defenses to use of deadly force under those circumstances, namely that the person reasonably fears deadly force based on the other person’s actions or threats under conditions such as burglary or arson.
Municipal courts have criminal offenses which carry sentences of six months imprisonment or less. These are known as disorderly persons offenses or “DPs.” (In New York they are known as misdemeanors). New Jersey also has petty disorderly persons offenses, which carry maximum sentences of 30 days imprisonment.
New Jersey case law further refines the applicability of defenses, and other factors come into play such as reckless behavior on the part of the one using force and the person’s knowledge of the law. Courts wrestle with issues such as when a person had honest but mistaken intent. Courts consider culpability when determining the degree of the offense, which can have an impact on sentencing. For example, “reckless” conduct is considered a lesser kind of culpability than “knowing” conduct for sentencing purposes.
Legal counsel is imperative to navigate the thorny legal issues that are so important in understanding potentially available criminal defenses under New Jersey’s code. The attorneys at McLaughlin & Nardi, LLC, are experienced in handling these types of legal matters. We aggressively defend our clients. We can help. E-mail us or call 973-890-0004 to schedule a consultation.