Criminal Justice Process in New Jersey
NJ Court Information
New Jersey Courts handle a high volume of criminal cases.
If you have a criminal matter in either Superior or Municipal court, then you probably have a lot of questions.
It’s an intimidating process but this page is dedicated to helping find answers to your questions.
If you don’t find the answers to your questions here, then Contact Us and we’ll be happy to help you!
What is a Criminal Complaint in NJ?
A Criminal Complaint is a “Charging document”.
This piece of paper tells you what you are accused of doing wrong.
A criminal complaint will also include the date of the crime, location of the crime and it will identify the victims.
What’s the difference between an arrest warrant and a summons?
An arrest warrant means that the police have a court order to take you into custody because of a criminal charge.
A summons is an invitation to go to court. However, if you fail to go to court, the judge will issue a “bench warrant”.
What is a “bench warrant”?
A bench warrant is just like an arrest warrant but it comes directly from the judge.
How can I confirm my court date?
Will I get notice of when & where I have to appear?
can I confirm my court date?
Each criminal complaint lists the address and phone number of the court in the location where you were arrested. Simply call the court administrator and provide your name and complaint number. They will be happy to help.
Can I change my court date?
The judge will need to see your request in writing for you to avoid getting a bench warrant. (Number 4 above)
Will there be a lot of people in criminal court?
The judge doesn’t like me, can I get a different judge?
What does it mean to have a “conflict” with a judge?
Will the cop who arrested me be in criminal court?
But once your case gets close to trial, the cop will be in court to help the prosecutor prepare the case against you.
Do I have to go to every court appearance?
Unless you have a medical emergency or the judge’s permission to be absent from court, you will have to be there.
What happens if I’m on vacation during my court date?
What happens if I miss a court date?
Or, if you have a serious case and you fail to appear, the judge may issue a Bench warrant for your arrest. (See number 3 above)
How long does each court appearance take?
The duration of each court appearance depends on many things.
If you are represented by a criminal lawyer, then your case will be one of the first to be heard.
However, if you are alone, you will have to wait in line until your case is called.
If you are going to trial, you may have to wait until the judge is finished with all of the cases ahead of you.
if I go to court with a lawyer, does my case goes first?
Yes. Under New Jersey court rules, attorney cases are heard first. The reason for this is that attorneys have to go to many courts throughout the day and it is not fair to delay the court system.
What happens during my first appearance in Criminal Court?
If you do not have a lawyer, the judge will give you time to hire a lawyer.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, the judge will ask you to fill out a Public Defender application.
What’s a Pre-trial conference?
You are participating in a Pre-Trial conference every time you go to court with your lawyer.
The judge will give your criminal lawyer a “scheduling order”. This schedule helps your lawyer and the prosecutor “work things out” prior to trial. Evidence is exchanged and plea negotiations take place during these conferences.
How do we get the evidence in my criminal case?
Your criminal lawyer makes a demand for evidence with the prosecutor.
The government lawyer is the prosecutor.
The prosecutor is responsible for providing all of the evidence in your case.
Do I get to see the evidence in my case?
Once your criminal lawyer has all of the evidence in your case, he/she will review it with you to discuss the strengths & weaknesses of your case.
What is Drug Court in NJ?
See What Is Drug Court? How Does It Work?
Why are some criminal cases in Municipal Court?
Criminal cases that started in Superior court or “high-court” get sent down to municipal court because the government decided that your case is not of a very serious nature.
Or perhaps they see that you have a clean record and deserve a “slap on the wrist”.
If your case goes to Municipal court, this is a good thing!
What if my criminal case
is in Superior Court?
In New Jersey, the most serious crimes go to Superior Court.
If you are in this situation, you really need a criminal lawyer to help you and protect you.
Criminal cases go to Superior Court when the crime is more serious.
Less serious criminal offenses are handled in Municipal court.
Here’s more info: NJ Felony (Indictable) Charges: 5 Steps To Start Fighting Back!
What is a Pre-Indictment Conference in NJ?
What is an indictment?
An indictment is a document listing the charges against you.
The prosecutor gets the document only after a group of people vote to formally bring charges against you.
This group of people is called a Grand Jury.
What is Early Disposition Court?
The Early Disposition Court (EDC) is a court that makes you a plea offer before your matter is “indicted”.
How long will my criminal case take?
There is no set time for your case to be resolved.
If you are in jail, there is a time limit by which the case must be resolved.
If the case is not resolved, you must be released from jail.
What are the max fines & penalties
in Municipal Court?
For a Disorderly Persons offense, you are facing up to six months in jail & a $1,000- fine.
For a Petty Disorderly Persons offense, you are facing up to 30 days in jail & a $500- fine.
Can I speak with the Prosecutor?
Your attorney will speak to the prosecutor for you.
Can I talk to the judge?
Most of the time, your attorney will speak to the judge for you.
Occasionally a judge will ask you a question directly.
However, usually the only time you will speak to the judge is when you are pleading guilty to something, or your case goes to trial, and the judge asks you a question during trial.
What is a trial?
A trial is a proceeding in court, where the guilt or innocence of the accused is decided.
Do I need a lawyer
if I’m under investigation?
It is best to hire a criminal lawyer to speak to any police officer investigating you. In this way, you will not incriminate yourself.
Remember, you have rights. Your attorney will make sure that your rights are not violated.
Must I speak to a detective if he calls?
No, you do not have to speak to the detective.
It is best to have your criminal lawyer speak to the detective.
Will it help my criminal case if I give a statement to the police?
Never do that.
Let your criminal lawyer speak for you.
Can my marijuana be dismissed because the law is gonna change?
What if the victim drops the case?
If the alleged victim tells the prosecutor he wants to drop the case, the prosecutor may drop the case.
However, the prosecutor has the authority and power to continue with the case.
What happens if the
victim doesn’t show up for court?
If the case is in municipal court, the alleged victim does not have to appear for the first date unless they received a court notice to appear.
If the alleged victim received notice to appear and does not appear, the case may be dismissed.
However, the court may give the case another date.
If the case is in Superior court, the alleged victim does not have to come to court until the court orders it, and that is usually only if there is a trial.
Will I go to jail?
You will only go to jail if you plead guilty or are found guilty.
But not all criminal convictions result in a person going to jail.
The judge has to order it.
The court only orders a person to go to jail under specific circumstances.
For example, a person may be ordered to go to jail if they are found guilty of a serious crime.
Why did the judge say that I was arrested if I was never handcuffed?
A person is basically “arrested” any time they are charged.
Once you are charged, you will be “processed” and this is considered an arrest.
You will be fingerprinted and your picture will be taken.
A person may or may not be handcuffed.
How many times do I have to go to Criminal Court?
If you have a case in criminal court, you will have to go every time the court orders you to go.
Your defense attorney can ask the court to allow you not to appear, but your attorney must have a good reason for you not appearing.
How long will the criminal arrest & conviction stay on my record?
A felony conviction will stay on your record for 10 years.
A Disorderly Persons Offense conviction (Misdemeanor) will stay on your record for 5 years.
An Ordinance conviction will stay on your record for 2 years.
A criminal arrest & conviction will stay on your record until it is expunged.
Does the victim have to go to court?
The victim only has to go to court if the court orders the victim to appear.
Can I just pay a fine to dismiss the criminal case?
A case is only dismissed when the court orders the case dismissed.
A criminal case is dismissed only after an agreement to dismiss the case is made between the prosecutor and defense counsel, or the court orders it dismissed after a trial or some other court proceeding.
A fine is paid only after a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal charge or is found guilty of a criminal charge.
Here’s a great article on dismissing criminal charges:
Dismissing Criminal Charges: Top 7 Ways To End The Nightmare
Can my criminal case get dismissed?
Getting your case dismissed often depends on the experience and skill of your criminal defense attorney.
Here’s a complete guide to help you get your case dismissed.
Dismissing Criminal Charges: Top 7 Ways To End The Nightmare
If I go to trial, do I have to speak?
You are innocent until proven guilty.
You have a constitutional right to not be forced to speak in your defense.
At trial, it is the prosecutor’s job to prove you guilty.
What’s the difference between a bench trial & a jury trial?
A bench trial is when the judge decides the law and the facts of a case.
A jury trial is when a regular group of people decide whether the accused is guilty or not guilty. The judge decides only questions of law.
How long does a trial last?
A trial lasts until the jury reaches a verdict. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, then the judge may declare a “hung jury”.
What is a mistrial?
A mistrial is when a jury cannot reach a decision as to whether an accused person is guilty or not guilty.
In some instances, the judge will declare a mistrial.
A mistrial does not mean that your case is over.
The prosecutor may decide to try the case again.
If I’m innocent, should I take a plea?
Only you can make this decision.
What happens if I reject a plea offer?
The prosecutor may decide to take the case to trial or may make a plea offer more favorable to you.
New Jersey Conviction Records
A conviction record is a document providing information that a person is found guilty, pleaded guilty or pleaded no contest to criminal charges in a civilian or military court.
- NJ Criminal History Records Information
The New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) was introduced in 1995. This law ensures that all state residents have the fundamental right to access any public record they please.
Any record held by the local or state government can be accessed and copied, as long as another law does not prohibit it.
This promotes a sense of transparency between the public and their government, as well as safeguarding government accountability.
Local Registrars Listing
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Apply for a Civil Union License
Register A Domestic Partnership
Placing an Adoption on File
Correcting a Vital Record
Getting Copies of Vital Records
Birth, Marriage and Death Records
new jersey court info & case search
The Judiciary is one of the three branches of state government.
It was established in New Jersey by the 1947 state constitution.
Each year, about seven million new cases are filed in New Jersey’s state-level courts.