Criminal Process - New Jersey
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?
How 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?
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?
The cop who arrested you does not have to be in court during your early court appearances. 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?
If you miss a court, the judge may fine you a small amount for what is called a “Failure to Appear” (FTA). 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 on 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.
Is it true that if I go to court with a lawyer, our 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 have a criminal lawyer, your lawyer will enter a “Not Guilty” plea on your behalf and request all of the evidence in your case. 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 PTI?
What is a Conditional Discharge?
See (Conditional Discharge)
What is Drug Court in NJ?
See (Drug Court in NJ)
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!
Why do criminal cases go to Superior Court?
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 this new Early Disposition Court?
The Early Disposition Court, sometimes called the “EDC” for short is a way for your case to avoid indictment. (See number 27 above.)
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.
Is my criminal case going to be in high court?
If the charge is serious enough, then the case will be in high court, also called “Superior Court”. The cases in high court are called indictables, or felonies.
Can I speak with the Criminal 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 prosecutor tries to prove the defendant is guilty of the charges against him.
Do I need a criminal lawyer if I’m just being investigated?
It is best to hire a criminal lawyer to speak to any officer investigating you in order to protect your legal rights.
Do I have to speak to the detective who called me?
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?
No. Never do that. Let your criminal lawyer speak for you.
Can my marijuana be dismissed because the law is gonna change?
If you are charged with possession of marijuana, your attorney may be able to have the case dismissed. However, the law has not changed, and until it does the current law still applies.
What happens if the alleged victim wants to drop 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 alleged victim doesn’t show up?
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 go to jail if the court orders 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 charged that person will be “processed” and this is considered an arrest. You will be finger-printed 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 criminal lawyer can ask the court to allow you not to appear, but your attorney must have a good reason for you not appearing.
Will the criminal case be on my record?
Yes. See expungements.
How long will the criminal arrest & conviction stay on my record?
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?
No. 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.
Why can’t my criminal case just be dismissed?
The case cannot just be dismissed because if the prosecutor believes there is enough evidence to prove the charges against you. The prosecutor will only dismiss a case after an agreement to dismiss the case is made between the prosecutor and defense counsel, or she believes that she does not have enough evidence to prove the case against you.
If there’s a criminal trial, do I have to speak?
No. 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. A judge will declare a mistrial. The trial ends. The prosecutor may decide to try the case again, or not try it.
If I’m really innocent, should I take a plea?
That is a decision that should only be made after consultation with your attorney.
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.
Do I have to speak at my criminal trial?
No. 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