Criminal Mischief N.J.S.A. 2C:18-3
Criminal Trespass in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18 3 may be a a petty disorderly persons offense, a disorderly persons offense or a fourth degree crime. If your matter is scheduled to be in municipal court then you are charged with a petty disorderly persons offense or a disorderly persons offense. Regardless of the degree these are serious offenses that carry financial penalties, possible jail time, probation, and of course your reputation will be affected as you will have a criminal record if convicted.
The most serious offense is the 4th degree crime pursuant to 2C:18-3(a) which provides it is unlawful to enter or surreptitiously remain in any dwelling, research facility, school, utility properties or companies, or separately secured or occupied portions thereof, without permission or license. Otherwise a criminal trespass charge is graded as a disorderly persons offense.
It is also a fourth degree crime to peer into a window or other opening of a dwelling or other structure used for overnight accommodation for the purpose of invading the privacy of another person and under circumstances in which a reasonable person would not expect to be observed.
Pursuant to 2C:18-3(b) you could be charged as a defiant trespasser which is a petty disorderly persons offense. This offense is based on facts which show that a person knows he is not licensed or privileged to enter or remain in any place (not previously defined such as a dwelling) as to which notice against trespass is given by:
- Actual communication to the person;
- Posting in a manner authorized by the law or reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders; or
- Fencing or other enclosure designed to keep intruders off of the property.
The penalties for all of these charges can include fines and fees, court costs, jail time, probation with a variety of conditions, and community service,. For a fourth degree offense you face a fine of up to $10,000.00 and up to 18 months jail; for a disorderly persons offense you face a fine of up to $1,000.00, and up to 6 months in jail; and for a petty disorderly persons offense you face a fine of up to $500.00 and up to 30 days in jail. These are all very serious charges and each case must be analyzed to determine if t he charges can be down graded, pled to a town ordinance or even dismissed.
The defenses to criminal trespass include determining whether the structure was actively being used or abandoned. Another defense is whether the structure was open to the public at the time it was entered or if the person reasonably believed that the owner of the structure would have allowed them to be in the structure.
You could be in a situation where you accidentally wandered from public property onto private property. If the property wasn’t clearly and obviously posted then this may be a valid reason to have the charges dismissed or at least downgraded.
The goal would be to have the charges dismissed or downgraded to a town ordinance because then you would not have a criminal record which would show up on a criminal history check. A criminal record could mean you would be asked to step down from any public office you hold, prevent you from holding public office, cause you to lose a job or not get a promotion or a new job. Some volunteer positions may even do criminal background checks. If a dismissal or town ordinance is not possible then it is important to have the charges downgraded and provide a basis to get the minimum fines and penalties.
An experienced criminal trial lawyer will analyze the facts to see if there are motions that could be filed to ensure you will receive discovery in a timely manner and to make sure you get a speedy trial and have the manner resolved quickly. The evidence may also support a motion to suppress evidence such as statements taken in violation of the Miranda warnings. Ultimately a lawyer in your corner will get you the best deal they can if your charges cannot be dismissed and effectively minimize the impact to your reputation, your time and your wallet.