Criminal Trial New Jersey
- The Criminal Division of the Superior Court manages criminal complaints from the time of lodging 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 of the complainant, 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 that includes all of the laws against criminal behavior.
- Criminal offenses are heard, or considered in the Superior Court, and are more serious than non-criminal charges heard in the Municipal Courts.
- 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. This means that 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 Third and Fourth degree offenses.
- If a criminal case has not been downgraded, diverted, dismissed, or plead out the prosecutor will present the case to a grand jury for an indictment.
- The grand jury is composed of a group of citizens who have been selected from voter registration lists, driver's license information and income tax information. It is their civic duty to serve.
- These grand jury panel members will consider evidence presented by the county prosecutor and any witnesses.
- They will determine if there is sufficient evidence to formally charge a defendant and oblige him/her to respond to the charge(s).
- Witnesses may testify regarding the crime. Defendants may testify if they are requested to attend and elect to surrender their right against self incrimination as guaranteed by the constitution. After considering the prosecutor's evidence and the testimony of witnesses, if a majority of the grand jurors vote that enough evidence has been presented to warrant the defendant to answer these charges they will vote a true bill of indictment.
- This will trigger further proceedings in the Superior Court.
- 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 accused's 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.
- Bail is required to be set within twelve hours of the issuance of a Complaint.
- All defendants have a right to bail under the state constitution.
- If bail is posted defendants are released until the charges listed in the complaint are resolved.
- Defendants will remain free on bail as long as they meet all of the conditions of bail.
- Several types of bails can be posted based on the bail set by the Court:
property bonds, and
- surety bonds.
- The defendant may also be required to give a personal bond, which is a promise to appear or face a judgment, whereby a specified amount of money is forfeited.
- Some defendants pay a bail bondsman to post funds on their behalf, (these people are private business owners and are NOT part of the Judiciary).
- If defendants have significant ties to the community, or no criminal history, they may be considered for Released on Own Recognizance which is an affidavit certifying that they are aware of the charges levied against them, and will appear in court to face them.
- If they are released and appear in court as required, bail money may be refunded in full upon case resolution or disposition.
- Once defendants are released, bail is discharged to the surety.
- If the defendant fails to appear for any court date will result
- in the issuance of a bench warrant for the defendant and
- an immediate forfeiture of the sureties , bail money or property posted.
- The bail will be discharged in full upon the completion on the entire case.
- Bail investigations may be ordered by a Superior Court judge of the Criminal Division to so that the investigators or a case supervisor can collect information on the defendant's ties or standing in the community.
- The identifying information may include
- the names,
- dates of birth,
- criminal record,
- mental health and drug abuse history of the defendant.
- Bail investigation reports consider the seriousness of the offense and the severity of punishment upon conviction, as well as the defendant's family ties and financial status.
- All of these factors are considered in light of the probability that the defendant will appear for trial or other court events.
- The report is submitted to the judge, who hears evidence from the defense and prosecution and decides the amount and form of bail to be set.
- A plea agreement is an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant's lawyer to negotiate plea, in some cases.
- Wherein this agreement, the prosecutor may offer the accused an arrangement where he/she will recommend a reduced term of incarceration or probation in exchange for a guilty plea.
- A maximum sentence terms may also be part of negotiated agreements with certain requirements and stipulations.
- Criminal Division individual judge teams, managed by team leaders, coordinate court dates with the prosecutor and the defense attorney regarding the plea agreement and establish a court date for the plea to be entered.
- Defendants entering a plea must sign a statement, certifying that they understand the plea, and are entering into the agreement voluntarily and without pressure from the prosecution or their own attorney.
- They also acknowledge that the Criminal Division judges are not bound by the agreement when deciding and rendering sentences.
- If a judge perceives that the plea bargain is too lenient, the judge can reject the plea and order the prosecution and defense parties to re-negotiate, or order the matter set down for trial.
- Defendants pleading guilty as a result of the plea agreement, must acknowledge their plea in open court.
- Defendants who plead guilty after plea negotiations do not surrender their right to appeal their convictions to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.
- Defendants pleading guilty to crimes are subject to a Pre-Sentence Investigation, conducted by Probation Officers or Case Supervisors on the judge's team in the Criminal Division.
- This report is used by the Judge, Prosecutor and Defense Attorney at the time of sentencing.
- A criminal case instituted at the Criminal Division of Superior Court may be tried by jury, if the accused opt for otherwise by a judge.
- When a case is decided, there are three possible event may occur:
- the defendant is found guilty;
- the defendant is found not guilty, or acquitted, by a jury or judge; or
- the charges are dismissed based on a motion entered by the defense.
- The case may also be declared a mistrial for reasons such as the jury cannot agree on a verdict. A mistrial is then rescheduled for a future date.
- Normally, an acquitted person has no further obligation to the court, unless they face new charges.
- Prosecutors have no right to appeal acquittals, and defendants may not be tried twice for the same offense.
- Defendants who are found guilty face sentencing, where punishments are rendered by the judge who tried the case.
- Defendants found guilty of capital murder, face a second trial where jurors hear evidence from the prosecution regarding aggravating factors related to the murder.
- Defense lawyers present evidence seeking to establish mitigating factors.
- Then, the jurors must decide whether the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors or visa versa.
- If the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors, the defendant is sentenced to death.
- If the mitigating factors outweigh the aggravating factors, the defendant is sentenced to 30 years in prison without the availability of parole.
- Defendants who are convicted of crimes may appeal their cases to the Appellate Division of Superior Court, which reviews trial records and decides if decisions made by judges in the Superior Court are fair and equitable.
- Defendants may file motions or requests to their sentencing judge to have sentences modified, or for other relief.
- Any person convicted of a crime may, pursuant to the rules governing the courts of the State of New Jersey, file through the Criminal Records Office, a petition for Post-Conviction relief.
- The petition must contain a verified petition and have grounds for relief.