The criminal legal process in New Jersey is state-specific and can be overwhelming. Most states follow the same basic steps, but each can vary in its specific procedures. This guide details basic criminal procedures in New Jersey.
Basic Arrest Procedure
A police officer can arrest you if he or she believes an offense has taken place or is in the process of taking place. You're then taken into custody. In order to make the arrest, the officer must have probable cause, must have observed the crime, or must have a warrant for your arrest.
The State has the burden of proof to establish your guilt, and the arresting officer must inform you of your Miranda rights. These include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If you're arrested without being told of your Miranda rights, nothing you said is admissible as evidence at trial.
The booking process is conducted after the arrest and it takes place at the jail. Your personal information is taken at this time. The process includes fingerprinting, photographing, and confiscating your personal belongings. In New Jersey, you'll receive a medical screening as well.
Your First Appearance
When a complaint is issued, the defendant is either arrested or issued a summons to appear in court. This is known as a first appearance. In New Jersey, it's often combined with an arraignment. You can expect a first appearance hearing within a day of arrest, but it can take longer on weekends or holidays.
Bail and Release
Bail must be set within 12 hours of complaint issuance. All accused have the right to bail. Defendants are advised of their rights and bail is reviewed at the arraignment.
The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved through plea bargaining during pretrial events. The prosecution and defense discuss a mutually satisfactory compromise subject to court approval. If no deal is reached, you're then charged.
Grand Jury Indictment
New Jersey’s pretrial procedure is a grand jury for felony cases. Grand juries determine probable cause. The proceeding is held in secret and the defendant is not permitted to attend. If you're not out on bail, your grand jury must take place within six days of your arrest. If the grand jury doesn’t believe there's enough evidence against you, you'll be released. If the grand jury finds that there is cause that you committed the crime, you'll be indicted.
Arraignment and Plea Options
Pre-arraignment conferences must be held no later than 21 days after indictment. A formal arraignment must be held no later than 50 days after an indictment. The criminal complaint, which includes the charges against you, is formally read at the arraignment and you'll make a plea. Defendants usually plead guilty or not guilty.
Trial, Verdict and Sentence
The defense has the right to choose whether the case will be tried before a judge or a jury. A defendant should be brought to trial within 180 days. If your case does go to trial, the prosecutor and your lawyer will alternate presenting evidence and questioning witnesses. Cross-examination of witnesses can also occur. If you're found guilty of a misdemeanor, the judge may sentence you immediately. With felonies, the judge typically sets a new court date for your sentencing.
Seek Legal Help
Criminal law proceedures can be complicated and confusing, and every criminal case is different. Anyone accused of a crime in New Jersey should retain a criminal defense attorney for the best representation and possible outcome.