Compiled by Kenneth A. Vercammen, Past Chair NJ State Bar Municipal Court and DWI Section
Our office represents people charged with criminal and disorderly persons offenses. We provide representation throughout New Jersey. Criminal charges can cost you. If convicted of a criminal offense, you face prison, high fines, Probation over 18 months and other penalties. Dont give up! Our Law Office can provide experienced attorney representation for criminal matters. Our website njlaws.com provides information on criminal offenses we can be retained to represent people.
According to the NJ Judiciary Website http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/criminal/crproc.htm#indictment, the Criminal Division of Superior Court manages criminal complaints from the time they are lodged to their resolution or disposition. The accused, or defendant is charged with an offense as a result of a formal complaint issued by a law enforcement agent or a citizen who believes an offense has been committed against their person or property. It can also result from an indictment by a panel of citizens gathered to consider evidence, called a grand jury. Arrests can occur at the scene of a crime or based on warrants or sworn statements ordering a court appearance. All arrests must be based on probable cause, or reasonable grounds to believe that an offense has been committed, and the defendant may have committed the offense. Complaints state the reasons for the charge, and refer to offenses listed in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (Title 2C) that includes all of the laws against criminal behavior.
Criminal offenses are heard, or considered in Superior Court, and are more serious than non-criminal charges heard in municipal courts where the offense occurred. Defendants found guilty, or convicted of crimes face more serious consequences, with punishments spanning probation supervision and fines to the loss of liberty through confinement for a year or more. Crimes are classified by degree. Degrees range from first to fourth degree offenses. A First degree crime carries the potential penalty of 10-20 years in prison. A Second degree crime carries a potential penalty of 5-10 years. Defendants who are convicted of first and second degree crimes face a presumptive term of incarceration. It is assumed that they will be sentenced to serve time in prison. A Third degree crime may result in 3-5 years if convicted, while Fourth degree crimes carry a potential penalty of up to 18 months in jail. There is a presumption of non-custodial sentences on 3rd and 4th degree offenses.
Complaints heard in municipal courts are disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons violations, which carry less restrictive punishments upon conviction. Disorderly persons offenses may be sentenced to up to 6 months in a county jail. Petty disorderly convictions may render up to 30 days in jail.
Once a complaint is issued, defendants are either arrested or issued a summons or notice to appear in municipal or Superior Court on a first appearance. If they fail to appear, a warrant may be issued for the accuseds arrest by a judge if there is proof of service, or evidence that the accused received the summons or notice and failed to appear. At the first court appearance, defendants are advised of their rights. Their bail is reviewed.
Right To Counsel
At their first appearance defendants are advised of their right to counsel. This means that they are entitled to have an attorney represent them and answer the charges.
In making indigence determinations, Criminal Division staff consider defendants ability to post bail, the amount of bail posted, the willingness of friends and family members to pay for an attorney, and any factor related to a defendants claim of impoverishment. They review tax returns, credit and wage records and any other relevant information regarding the ability of defendants to hire their own attorneys.
Pre-Indictment Events Following the filing of a complaint and the first court appearance, the prosecutors office in each county determines whether to pursue a criminal complaint. Prosecutors determine if cases have merit and sufficient evidence to pursue a conviction. In most counties, the prosecutors Case Screening Unit reviews police reports and interviews victims and witnesses to determine if the original charges will be prosecuted. If there is insufficient evidence, the charges are downgraded to disorderly persons offenses and remanded or sent to the municipal courts for a hearing or dismissed. In some counties, prosecutors pre-screen potential Superior Court filings before a complaint is signed.
The Grand Jury
If a criminal case has not been, dow