If you’ve been arrested and are facing criminal charges in New Jersey criminal court, I understand what you are going through. For most people, their first exposure to the criminal justice system is overwhelming and extremely stressful. You are very concerned about what could happen to you, and how you will be treated. The stakes are high for you and your future.Charged with a crime in New Jersey? Please call (800) 673-3656
As a criminal defense lawyer, it isn’t just my job to ensure your rights are protected on your day in court—I also consider it my job to make certain you understand what is going on in your case.
The criminal process can be confusing to the uninitiated, and even to some lawyers who don’t often defend criminal charges. However, knowing exactly how it works and what you can expect can put your mind at ease and also give you the confidence we will need when we go before the judge.
Your entrance into the criminal justice system typically begins with an arrest. Whether you are arrested on a warrant or at the scene of an alleged crime, the police have to follow a very specific set of procedures during this time.
At the time of your arrest, the officer(s) may search you and your immediate area for illegal or dangerous items. They will also likely read you your rights at some point during the arrest.
Your Miranda Rights are those rights we all know after watching enough television. These rights are crucial and the officer must inform you of your rights or the arrest may not be legitimate and any talking you might do beforehand can be inadmissible in court.
You can also be charged with a crime without being arrested, if you receive a criminal citation or summons that requires you to appear in criminal court.
First Criminal Court Appearance
Within a matter of hours or a few days after your arrest you will be taken before the judge. At this point you will be advised of your rights and the charges against you. If you are facing charges of an indictable offense (a felony), you will not have the opportunity to enter a plea at this point.
This is where the issue of bail will first be addressed.
Bail is seen as a promise to return for future court dates. When you put money up or make a promise, the court sees that as assurance you will return. If the court believes you are not likely to show up, you may not be granted bail at all and could be held in jail until your next court date.
There are numerous things a judge will consider when determining your bail including:
Both the prosecution and your defense lawyer can address the judge concerning the issue of bail.
The judge may require you to pay for your release in which case you will receive your money back once you have consistently shown up for court. He may also decide to release you on your own recognizance.
Releasing you on your own recognizance is also called an OR Bond. This simply means no collateral (money) is exchanged, but the judge trusts you to return as promised. This is typically used in situations where there is no criminal history and the judge doesn’t see you posing any risk at all to the community or yourself.
Grand Jury/ Indictment
In most serious criminal cases (indictable offenses), the evidence against you will be reviewed by a grand jury long before your case ever gets to trial. A grand jury is a panel of people tasked with determining if there is enough evidence to charge you with the crime. This jury does not determine your guilt, only if your case will move forward.
If the grand jury decides there is probable cause or enough evidence to believe a crime was committed and that you may have been responsible, they will file an indictment. The indictment is a fancy way of saying formal charges have been filed.
Your arraignment is where you will be formally charged with a crime. This is the first opportunity you will have to enter a plea. Your options when entering a plea include:
- Not guilty
- 3. No contest- You don’t admit nor dispute the charge
- 4. Stand mute- This will be entered and treated as a plea of not guilty
At your arraignment the issue of bail can be revisited.
The vast majority of criminal cases in New Jersey end in a plea agreement. A plea agreement is essentially a compromise between the prosecution and defense regarding your case. In most instances, the prosecution offers to lower the charges against you or recommend a lenient sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.
Deciding to take a plea agreement and hashing out the details of one should be done only after consulting with your attorney.
Pre Trial Motions
If your case is headed to trial, there will likely be many pre-trial motions and hearings held before the actual trial date. Hearings on the admissibility of evidence are the most common but things like discovery and change of venue are also possible.
If your criminal case is one of the few that end in a trial, it will follow the same format that criminal trials in the United States have followed for years and years. The details will differ because every case is different but the stages include:
- Opening Statements
- Presentation of Evidence
- Closing Statements
The prosecution and defense will take turn at each stage until both sides are satisfied that they have said all that needs to be said.
Whether your case is heard by a judge or jury, it will end with a verdict. If you are found guilty, sentencing may be postponed for another day, giving the judge time to evaluate all of the circumstances surrounding your case.
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