The Criminal Justice Process
- First Appearance
- Right To Counsel
- Substance Abuse Evaluations
- Pre-Indictment Events
- Plea Bargains
- Pretrial Intervention Program (P.T.I.)
- The Grand Jury
- The Indictment Process
- The Pre-Arraignment Conference and Arraignment
- The Status and Pretrial Conferences
- Presentence Investigations, Reports and Sentencing
- Post-Conviction Motions
- The "TEAM" concept in Criminal Case Processing
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 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 a potential penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison. A second degree crime carries a potential penalty of five to 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 three to five 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 third and fourth 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 six months in a county jail. Petty disorderly convictions may render up to 30 days in jail.