New Jersey Criminal Procedure – An Overview
NEW JERSEY CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS – AN OVERVIEW
Our law firm represents individuals charged with crimes and offenses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While the states border each other their criminal processes are very different. Often, we need to explain this procedure during the initial consultation. During that meeting we explain what will occur following an arrest, so our client is prepared regardless of the course of the case.
Probable Cause & Arrest in New Jersey
In New Jersey, before an arrest, law enforcement or police must have evidence that shows that there is probable cause that the accused committed a crime. This evidence can come in a variety of forms, but it is usually a fellow citizen or police officer who observed the crime, this is known as probable cause. While sometimes it requires an extensive investigation, in many situations, police can find probable cause to arrest following something as simple as a vehicle stop. Therefore, our criminal defense law firm spends so much time explaining and discussing police traffic stops in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
If police have probable cause they can file a criminal complaint and for indictable offenses in New Jersey a court can issue a complaint arrest warrant which allows any police officer to arrest the accused. Probable cause is a requirement for an arrest warrant in New Jersey.
2 Types of Criminal Complaints in New Jersey
There are 2 types of criminal complaints in New Jersey—warrant complaints and summons complaints. Warrant complaints are signed by a judge and allow a police officer to arrest an accused person while a summons complaint orders that a person appears in court but does not, in and of itself, justify an arrest. If the person fails to appear in court the judge can issue a bench warrant for their arrest.
After a person makes their initial first appearance in court a judge can determine whether to release them on bail. In New Jersey, unlike Pennsylvania, there is a cashless bail system in most situations. Courts will determine whether a person is released on bail based on a public safety assessment and arguments of counsel at a detention hearing
The Role of the Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey
When a complaint is filed for a serious crime (indictable offenses) it will be forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office rather than municipal court (disorderly persons offenses). The county prosecutor’s office will review the complaint and obtain all relevant elements and determine the appropriate disposition for the complaint. The prosecutor’s office may handle the complaint in several ways:
- Administratively dismiss
- Remand to Municipal court (Disorderly Persons Only)
- Prosecute in Superior court (Indictable Crimes)
A complaint is administratively dismissed because there is insufficient evidence to proceed. Prosecutors will determine whether to dismiss a complaint based on several factors which include:
- The nature and extent of the defendant’s prior criminal history
- The severity of the crime
- Whether or not the accused has pending charges
When a complaint is remanded to municipal court the original criminal charge is amended to a disorderly person’s offense which has jurisdiction over all these offenses. A person is not entitled to a jury trial at the municipal court level in New Jersey.
The Right to Trial in New Jersey
If the prosecutor’s office decides to prosecute the criminal charges in superior court, it may try to resolve the matter prior to indictment through a plea agreement or some type of diversion program such as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). If the defendant rejects the plea agreement or offer, the state must proceed to grand jury. The grand jury hears evidence and determines if there is probable cause for the case to proceed. If the grand jury finds that there is sufficient evidence, a person will be indicted. If the grand jury determines that there is insufficient evidence, the case will be dismissed, and the grand jury will issue a “no bill”. Grand jury proceedings are confidential, and prosecutors present the case to them with neither the judge nor the defense lawyer present for these proceedings.
If the person is indicted, the accused defendant will have to appear for arraignment and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges. Following the arraignment, the state may make another plea offer (post indictment) at a pre-disposition conference. If that offer is rejected the case will proceed to trial. Remember, municipal court hears and decides cases involving disorderly person offenses and there are no jury trials in municipal court. If a person is convicted following a trial in municipal court, they face a fine of up to $1000 and/or jail for up to 6 months. New Jersey Superior court, the criminal division, handles all other adult cases where a person is accused of committing a serious crime.
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