When a criminal complaint has been made against a person by an individual or by a law enforcement agency, it is the Criminal Division of Superior Court that will handle such a complaint until the case is resolved. An arrest can occur at the scene of a crime or it can be based on a warrant; however, all arrests must be made on what is called "probable cause," or there must be reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed. A complaint specifies the reasons for the charge, and it refers to the relevant offenses under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice.
Criminal offenses are more serious in nature than non-criminal charges, and these are heard in Superior Court, whereas non-criminal offenses are heard in the municipal courts where the offense occurred. Those defendants that are found guilty or "convicted" of serious crimes will face harsher punishments which may include several years in prison and fines. In New Jersey, crimes are classified by degrees with a First degree crime carrying from 10 to 20 years in prison, and a Second degree crime carrying from 5 to 10 years. A Third degree crime may result in 3 to 5 years upon conviction and a Fourth degree crime carries up to 18 months in jail.
Those complaints that are heard in the municipal courts are considered "disorderly persons" offenses or "petty disorderly persons" violations, and these carry lesser penalties. A disorderly persons offense can carry up to 6 months in jail and a petty disorderly conviction carries up to 30 days in jail at the most.
Your First Appearance
After an official complaint has been issued, the defendant will either be arrested by law enforcement or they will be given a summons or a notice to appear in either the Superior Court or the municipal court. If the defendant fails to appear, then a warrant for their arrest will be issued by a judge providing there is proof of service that the suspect actually received their summons or notice and chose to not to appear. At the defendant's first court appearance, they will be formally advised of their rights and the possibility of bail will be evaluated.
Under New Jersey law, bail must be set within twelve hours of issuing the complaint, and all defendants have a right to bail under New Jersey's constitution. Some defendants that don't have a prior criminal record that are not considered a threat to the community may be considered for a Release on Own Recognizance or R.O.R., in which case the person acknowledges their charges and agrees to appear in court at all hearings.
Defendants have a right to legal counsel at their first appearance and they are advised of this right. Meaning, they are entitled to have an attorney represent them as they face their charges. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, an investigation will be conducted of the individual's assets and liabilities and they will be assigned a public defender if they cannot afford a private attorney.
After the first court appearance, the prosecutor will determine whether or not they wish to pursue the criminal complaint, it will be up to the prosecutors to determine if the case has enough evidence and merit to move forward with a prosecution.
Pursuing a Plea Bargain
Often times the defense attorney and the prosecutor will negotiate a plea bargain. In cases such as these, the prosecutor offers the accused a deal where they accept a reduced term of incarceration or probation in exchange for a guilty plea. There are instances where the charges may be greatly reduced or even dismissed as a part of the plea bargain. Those defendants that decide to accept a plea bargain are required to accept their plea in an open court. Additionally, those defendants who accept a plea bargain are not surrendering their right to appeal their conviction to an Appellate Division of Superior Court. To learn more about the criminal process, please contact me at once to schedule a confidential consultation where we can discuss possible defense strategies in your case.