New Jersey Criminal Attorney - NJ Criminal Defense
Have you been accused of a crime in the State of New Jersey? As soon as you come into contact with the legal system, you need immediate assistance from an experienced NJ criminal lawyer. Prompt assistance can mean difference between keeping or losing your personal freedom. I have the skills and experience to provide an aggressive defense. I invite you to contact my office to review your case.
Below I provide general information on the criminal justice system in the State of New Jersey.
How Does a Criminal Case in the Superior Court of New Jersey Get to Trial?
All criminal actions before the Superior Court of New Jersey are prosecuted in the name of the State of New Jersey. This is because when the offense is committed, it is the laws of the state that are broken, and the offense is against the people of the state. Either a civilian or a police officer may fill out a criminal complaint. If the complaint alleges a felony and there is probable cause to file the complaint, it is then forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office for a determination of whether the criminal charges should be brought before a grand jury. In some cases, the defendant may waive his or her rights to an indictment by a grand jury and the offense charged may be brought directly to court for a trial by jury or other resolution. An experienced NJ criminal lawyer can advise you on your best defense strategy.
The primary function of the grand jury is to determine whether there is a prima facie (Latin meaning at first glance) case leading the grand jury to believe that a crime was committed and that the accused committed the crime. In short, the grand jury serves as a screening mechanism to protect citizens from having to respond to unfounded charges although experienced NJ criminal lawyers typically agree that the screening function of the grand jury does not provide significant protection to citizens. The function of the grand jury, however, is not to determine whether someone is guilty or not guilty of a crime – that is the responsibility of the petit jury, otherwise known as the trial jury. The grand jury considers whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against a person. The standard before a grand jury is not the same as the standard before the criminal trial jury and a complete trial is not conducted before the grand jury. Also, the technical rules of evidence do not apply to the grand jury.
After the charge is presented, the grand jury will hear testimony and review the evidence the State of NJ has gathered in support of its charges. The grand jury has the power to compel witnesses to attend its hearings; the accused and any witness on behalf of the accused generally do not testify. Grand jury hearings are not conducted in public so that witnesses may speak freely and so that the accused will not be publicly tainted if no indictment is returned. This is different from civil and criminal trials where, except in the case of family and juvenile matters, the trials are open to the public. The grand jury may either return a no bill, which means no indictment, or a true bill, which is an indictment. Each offense charged must be separately stated, although the charges may be combined into one indictment. Each charge in an indictment is called a count.
Some time before the trial, the defendant will appear before a judge at an arraignment and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads not guilty, experienced NJ criminal attorneys prepare for status conferences, pre-trial conferences before the trial judge resolving all pre-trial issues in the case and, if no resolution is reached between the defendant and the State of NJ, the case is scheduled for trial typically before the same trial judge.
In addition, before trial there is a process called discovery, which requires both parties to provide a list of their possible witnesses and other information. The information provided by the prosecutor representing the State of NJ must include all relevant evidence, including things that may incriminate the defendant, as well as information that may be helpful to the defendant.
At this point, do you have any rights? Yes, see New Jersey Constitutional rights in criminal cases.