Downgrading criminal charges - Introduction
Downgrading criminal charges are one way to avoid jail. Every client that walks through our doors wants to get their criminal charges dismissed. It is possible but not common & definitely not easy. Since we devoted an entire post to dismissing criminal charges, we will not discuss it here. Instead, we will explain a lesser-known legal strategy we refer to as downgrading criminal charges.
Downgrading criminal charges - Overview
Your case will be resolved in several ways.
It may be:
You retain us and we exhaust our efforts to get your criminal charges dismissed. However, nothing works. For example, we filed a motion to suppress the evidence in your drug case & the court denied it. In another example, we challenge the probable cause in your harassment case but the court also denies our motion. Lastly, we file a motion to dismiss the indictment but the court finds that the prosecutor presented their case to the grand jury properly.
Next, our plea negotiation efforts with the prosecutor are fruitless. The prosecutor’s position is that the state’s case against you is strong. The state has enough evidence to go to trial & a dismissal is not an option.
You are not eligible for a diversionary program because you either have a criminal record, have participated in probation before, or your charges do not qualify for any type of probation.
We change our plea bargaining focus. Our objective is no longer to your charges dismissed. Now, we are concentrating our efforts on downgrading criminal charges.
Downgrading Criminal Charges - Explained
To help you understand the process of downgrading criminal charges, let’s use an example from the retail world. You purchase a product for $100.00 After using it for a few months, you’re not happy with it & try to return it. The merchant (store owner) is willing to give you a refund but indicates that he/she can only refund a portion of the $100.00. Since the product is used, it value is no longer $100.00. You agree with the merchant’s reasoning & accept a 50% refund. You’re both happy & life goes on.
Downgrading criminal charges work in a similar way. Although the prosecutor believes that the state’s case is strong, there are no guarantees that a judge or jury will convict you. Rather than risking an acquittal (losing at trial), the prosecutor is open to a different type of plea negotiation.
The prosecutor may have several reasons for downgrading a charge. In addition to avoiding the risk of losing at trial, the prosecutor may want to avoid the time-consuming trial preparation involved in trials. Or the prosecutor may feel confident about proving some but not all of your charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
For example, one of our Bergen County clients faced a nine-count indictment. The prosecutor’s case was strong on five of those counts but weak on four. In this case, we worked with the prosecutor to dismiss eight counts of the indictment. In exchange, our client pleaded guilty to the downgraded ninth count of the indictment.
To illustrate, let’s assume that our client was facing a nine-count indictment for 3rd-degree drug possession. The process of downgrading criminal charges in this example consisted of having our client plead guilty to one count of 4th-degree drug possession. In this way, our client would not face 3-5 years in prison. Rather, he would only be sentenced to 6 months in county jail.
Downgrading Criminal Charges & Plea Bargains
The court rules in every jurisdiction across the United States encourage plea bargaining but prosecutors are under no obligation to offer a plea bargain. For example, if you are facing murder charges in New Jersey, the prosecutor does not have to offer you a plea. If a prosecutor has a slam dunk case against you, there’s no need to offer a plea. The prosecutor may have a video of you committing the murder & is literally guaranteed a conviction at trial. Once a jury sees the video, they will have no choice but to convict.
Now, let’s put this example aside and discuss how downgrading criminal charges is a form of plea bargaining. As criminal defense lawyers, when we work with prosecutors we discuss ways to resolve the case before us. We discuss the strengths & weaknesses of the state’s case, our client’s criminal history (or lack of it), our client’s probation options, possible punishment (sentencing) options, dismissing some charges, pleading guilty to other charges, and finally, downgrading criminal charges.
Downgrading criminal charges are at the heart of all plea negotiations. Often, police will overcharge a defendant. Overcharging means that you got accused of doing something much worse than what you actually did.
For example, let’s say that you’ve been charged with 2nd-degree aggravated assault. You are accused of breaking someone’s jaw (causing serious bodily injury). After we investigate, we learn that the victim’s jaw had been broken before you punched him. We cannot deny that you punched the victim but you did not cause his broken jaw. In this situation, you did commit an aggravated assault (punching someone in the face) but at most, you would be guilty of a 4th-degree felony.
In this scenario, we would work out a plea that reflects downgrading criminal charges.
Downgrading Criminal Charges - Can A Felony Go Down To A Misdemeanor?
Downgrading criminal charges from a felony to misdemeanor occurs daily.
For this explanation, we will use a Jersey City client to illustrate.
We represented a client facing drug possession charges. The police arrested our client because he was in possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana. The police correctly charged our client with felony drug possession because anything over 50 grams is a felony in NJ. However, our client was barely over the 50-gram cutoff. Since the search & arrest were proper, we could not get the drug charges dismissed.
Instead, we got our client out of “felony-danger”. We convinced the prosecutor to downgrade the drug charges to a Municipal court disorderly persons offense. Our client paid a fine & gave us an awesome review!
Downgrading criminal charges are the next best thing to getting your charges dismissed. Downgrades allow you to avoid incarceration but you will get a criminal conviction. You will have to plead guilty to a criminal charge & pay fines. Of course, we work tirelessly to get your criminal charges dismissed but you must appreciate that this is not always possible.
In exchange for your guilty plea to the downgraded charge, you will avoid the anxiety & costs involved with taking your matter to trial. You will have control over the sentence imposed since we will have worked out your punishment as part of the deal. Your case will be closed & you will not have to appear week after week and month after month in court.
Downgrading criminal charges is an effective way to resolve your case so that prosecutors, judges, and victims will feel that justice has been served.