What Can You Expect When You are Facing Charges in New Jersey Criminal Courts?
The criminal justice system in New Jersey can be complicated and confusing. Most people in court have never been faced with such an experience. After all, who ever imagines themselves to be accused of a crime? But if this has happened to you, I hope this page will help you understand the criminal court procedures a little better, and reduce a little of your anxiety.
Your defense attorney is the best source of help with any questions about your case.
If you haven’t hired a lawyer yet, I encourage you to schedule a free consultation with me for answers to questions about a charge you are facing. I can help you review your charges and plan a defense strategy to get you the best outcome possible for anyone accused of a New Jersey criminal offense.
This is the typical process for an indictable offense, or crime (also known as a felony level offense) as designated under New Jersey criminal laws. The court process is less complicated for a disorderly persons, or misdemeanor offense.
How a Criminal Charge is Filed
Anytime a police officer has contact with a person, that police officer writes a report. If a police officer suspects that a crime or offense has been committed they pass their report to the prosecutor’s office. If they believe that crime has been committed and the have probable cause that they are in contact with the person who committed the crime, the officer can arrest that person.
Indictable offenses are typically filed in New Jersey Superior Court.
While waiting for an indictment, that defendant will appear before a judge who tells them why he or she is being held in custody. The judge will also notify the defendant of their right to an attorney and the amount of their bail. Any person in custody is able to be given an attorney appointed by the state if he or she cannot afford a private defense lawyer.
Bail is the amount you need to pay to get out of jail. A defendant has a right to have the option to bail within twelve hours of being arrested. If the prosecutor is worried about a defendant bailing out and fleeing or being a threat to the community, he or she will file a motion to either raise the bail or to ask the judge to hold a defendant without bail. Some people contract a bail bond to pay their bail if they cannot come up with enough money on their own.
Sometimes a defendant will be ROR’d which means Released on his or her own Recognizance. This means that the person is released without paying anything by signing an affidavit saying they promise to appear in court. Usually this will happen if it is the first criminal charge a person has received and/or if the person has stable housing and employment and is not considered a risk to not return to court.
Information From the Prosecutor
A prosecutor reviews the reports from the police officers and determines if there was a crime or offense committed and, if so, what charge corresponds to each crime or offense based on the police reports. The prosecutor might also interview victims and/or witnesses to get more information. If the prosecutor decides there has been a crime committed he or she compiles all of the charges together in a document called information that is sent to a grand jury. If the prosecutor determines an offense has been committed, they send the information to the municipal courts.
A grand jury is a group of individuals who are randomly selected from the community through jury duty. They convene and listen to the police officers, witnesses, and victims to determine if a crime has been committed and whether or not it is likely that the person who is being accused, the defendant, is somehow related to what happened.
If the grand jury decides that a crime did occur and the defendant is likely involved in what happened, they issue an indictment. Before they issue an indictment they review the charges the prosecutor has named and decide which charges go on the indictment. An indictment is a document that shows the state of New Jersey is officially bringing charges against you. Sometimes a defendant’s bail will increase after an indictment.
All defendants have the right to fight the charges against them. They do this through a Trial. A trial is a hearing that can either be in front of a twelve person jury or in front of a judge. The trial begins with the prosecutor putting on any evidence he or she has. They will often do this by having police officers, witnesses, and/or the victim(s) testify in court. You have the right to confront your accuser so if a victim doesn’t show up for trial, the state has to dismiss your case. After the prosecution has put on their evidence, the defense has the opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence on their behalf. At the end of the trial either the judge or the 12 person jury decides whether or not the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charges. They can decide that all, some, or none of the charges have been proven. If they decide that none of the charges have been proven, the defendant is acquitted of the charges and is therefore free to go.
The defendant has the right to either be sentenced immediately following his or her trial or to wait and have a different hearing just for sentencing. Usually defendants who are out of custody during the trial and have been convicted will opt to have a separate sentencing hearing so they will not be taken into custody at that moment. Defendants who are convicted and who are in custody at the time usually elect to have their sentencing immediately because either way they are going back to jail after the trial.
Most criminal cases end in some form of guilty plea before they have a chance to go to trial. After reviewing the evidence, many times the defendant and his or her attorney will agree that it is likely they would be found guilty of the charges if they decided to take the case to trial. When this happens, the defendant can enter into a guilty plea which is a negotiated contract with the prosecutor, usually in exchange for less time than a defendant would receive if he or she lost at a trial.
I am in different NJ courts every day, defending my clients rights and freedom on many different criminal and traffic charges. If you’ve been arrested and are facing criminal charges in New Jersey, call for a free consultation now.(888) 628-8394
(888) 628-8394 or locally at (732) 625-9660