Outline of the New Jersey Criminal Justice Process
Our Former Deputy Attorney General is Ready to Defend Your Rights in the Criminal Justice Process in Burlington, NJ
When the police arrest you, they initiate you into the criminal justice process when it is your first offense. Whether you face drug possession, assault, or shoplifting charges, the arrest typically begins your journey. Wading through the various processes and procedures of the criminal justice system in New Jersey can be dizzying, so you want guidance along the way. A criminal defense attorney at our Burlington County firm can give you a more detailed picture tailored to your specific case, but here are some basics you should know. William C. Fay and our team at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay are ready to stand by your side. Contact 609-850-8284 to speak with one of our lawyers about your criminal case at no cost.
The police arrest you after they see you commit a crime or reasonably believe you committed a crime based on evidence, such as witness testimony. Another way they arrest you is after an investigation and obtaining an arrest warrant. An arrest warrant comes from a judge or magistrate after law enforcement presents reasonable belief or probable cause for your arrest. Probable cause means there are grounds for your arrest based on enough proof connecting you to a crime. And the police do not have to tell you the reason for arrest or read you your Miranda rights until they interrogate you.
Booking at the Police Station or Jail
Once you are arrested, you may be subject to a search, so any other illegal items on your person may justify additional charges. Then, they handcuff you, place you in the back of the police car and lock you in a holding cell at the police station or directly to jail. There, they book you, meaning they take down your personal information, the charges against you, and the time and officers involved in your arrest. You get your fingerprints taken. Then, you turn over anything in your pockets or on your person for inventory and safekeeping.
Being ROR, Detained, or Released on Conditions
Within 24 to 48 hours of arrest, a judge may release you or keep you in jail until trial if you are a flight risk or likely to re-offend. All defendants appear before a judge within 24 hours and either leave jail with a complaint summons or remain in jail with a complaint warrant for up to 48 hours. During that time, the pretrial court services prepare a recommendation for the accused’s pretrial release conditions and monitoring if necessary.
Typical pretrial release conditions are to remain crime-free, stay away from the victim and witnesses, and report to the court as instructed. Violating pretrial conditions may result in the defendant returning to jail and facing new charges. Violating court orders is a crime known as contempt. Ultimately, a court can release or keep the defendant in jail at the first hearing based on the court administration assessment and court services recommendations, as well as the judge’s review of the case and whether the prosecution files a motion for detention.
Your Pretrial Risk Assessment
Before the accused comes to court, the court administration director prepares a computer generated pretrial-risk-assessment to inform the judge’s decision to issue Summons or Warrant (N.J.S.A. 2A:162-25(c). Some of the gravest crimes, like murder and domestic violence offenses, require a complaint warrant. But if a risk assessment shows the defendant is likely to repeat offenses or fail to appear, then the court can hold the defendant in jail to ensure they appear at trial. The presumption is for release, but if no measures can ensure that the defendant will return to court or not re-offend, then the defendant stays in jail.
Seeking a Court Diversion
There are certain ways to circumvent the criminal justice process, such as the Pretrial Intervention Program for first-time offenders. For example, a first-time offender facing drug possession charges may be eligible to enter the PTI program to receive their one-time chance to keep a clean criminal record and avoid going to prison. Rather than a conviction and criminal record, the accused completes PTI and has no conviction. However, the state must accept them into the program, and they must have an evaluation to qualify. If they do not qualify, they must proceed to the next step in the prosecution of the charges.
Attending Your First Appearance
The next step depends on whether the charges are indictable crimes or disorderly persons offenses. For a disorderly persons offense, your arraignment occurs at the municipal court. At the arraignment, you appear before a judge who informs you of the charges against you. At court, you most likely get a summons with instructions to return on a specific date. For indictable offenses, your case goes to the superior court.
Before Your Case Reaches the Grand Jury
Before your case goes to the grand jury, you or your attorney may meet with the prosecutor at a pre-indictment conference to discuss the elements of the crime and attempt to settle all or a portion of the charges. Pre-indictment conferences only occur in superior courts for indictable crimes. At the pre-indictment conference, the prosecutor may offer you limited discovery and a plea deal, meaning a guilty plea for a lesser sentence. The discovery is the state’s partial evidence to submit to the jury to indict you. You should definitely seek legal advice about a plea offer to ensure a plea deal makes sense for you, depending on the strength of the state’s case, your criminal history, and other factors. Your criminal lawyer can also negotiate a better plea agreement that the one initially presented, so it is inadvisable to try to handle this on your own. Without a resolution at the pre-indictment stage, your case heads to the grand jury for a possible indictment.
Process of Being Indicted
In superior court, the prosecuting attorney takes your case and the police evidence against you to a grand jury that decides whether to indict you. If they hand down an indictment, your arraignment follows within two weeks. Arraignments are where the judge reads the charges against you and asks you to plead guilty or innocent.
Submitting a Plea
If the grand jury indicts you, you will appear for your arraignment when the judge informs you of the charges against you, your rights to an attorney, and a speedy trial. The judge may ask some questions and then ask how you plead to the charges: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. The best plea for you should be a discussion you have with your attorney, so you enter a fully informed plea. At the arraignment, the court may set a pretrial status conference to allow the defense and prosecution to discuss the case and present evidence in hopes of partially or wholly resolving the case, including a better plea offer.
Going to Trial
When the prosecution and defense cannot reach an agreement, the determination of guilt or innocence goes to the jury. By law, the prosecution has 90 days from your arrest to indict you and 180 days to try you. The law dictates that a defendant stays no more than 90 days in jail before indictment and 180 before trial. However, excusable delays, like medical exams, continuances, or judge disqualifications, may lengthen a defendant’s jail stay.
Your attorney may present your case to a judge or jury at trial at your option. The prosecution presents its case first. The state presents its evidence, including witnesses and documentary evidence, attempting to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crimes charged. Your attorney’s job is to persuade the jury that the state has not met its burden of proof. In other words, defense attorneys raise doubt.
Before and During Sentencing
If the trial results in a guilty verdict, the judge orders a pre-sentence investigation. The investigation consists of interviews of those who can report information on the defendant, such as law enforcement, victims, mental health counselors, rehabilitation centers, and work and family members. The judge reviews the investigation report to impose a sentence.
Your Right to Post-Conviction Relief
When a defendant believes the judgment is incorrect due to errors or excessive sentences, they might file a motion for post-conviction relief. The most common motions are for a new trial or to vacate or set aside a judgment. A verdict may be set aside due to a mistake or newly discovered evidence that would change the ruling. Jury misconduct may be one reason for a new trial. The grounds for most post-conviction relief are limited, and the defendant does not have much time to file their motions.
Your Right to Appeal
An appeal may be better to address trial errors or mistakes in the law. The New Jersey Appellate Division of the Superior Court decides the appeal. A defendant may appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court if their appeal is denied. You have 30 days to file an appeal of a disorderly persons judgment and 60 days for an indictable crime verdict.
Get Help Facing the Criminal Process in Mount Holly NJ
Throughout the criminal process, it is paramount to have a criminal defense lawyer advising you on how to proceed, including whether to take a plea offer and negotiating on your behalf with the prosecution for the best deal possible. Before trial, your attorney may bring a motion to exclude evidence the police obtained illegally. A motion to suppress keeps evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights from a judge or jury when coming to a verdict. You are undoubtedly disadvantaged in the criminal justice system without experienced legal representation.
Hire a capable, skilled, and highly trained criminal defense lawyer such as William C. Fay to handle your criminal charges in Burlington County towns, such as Mount Holly, Evesham, Mount Laurel, Willingboro, Cinnaminson, Moorestown, Pemberton, Maple Shade, and Delran. Our firm, Proetta, Oliver, & Fay, handles a broad range of criminal charges, ranging from aggravated assault and first degree heroin distribution, to disorderly conduct, harassment, unlawful possession of a weapon, and third degree cocaine possession. If you have been arrested, call 609-850-8284 to get assistance with your case and help protecting your rights immediately.
Our phones are answered 24 hours a day. We are available weekdays during business hours. We also meet with clients on evenings and weekends by request. We have four office locations conveniently located in Jersey City, Edison, Middletown, Cranford, Burlington, and Hamilton. All major credit cards are accepted.
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