Our state’s criminal justice system can be difficult to understand – and even more difficult to navigate – if you’re unfamiliar with the processes involved. At Garces, Grabler & LeBrocq, we believe that giving our clients information about the criminal justice system and its rules can help everyone, because knowledge is power. To help you better understand NJ law, we’re going to examine some of the key steps in the system, and how they affect those accused of committing a crime.
Step One: The Complaint. If a person reports a crime, the police write up an incident report and then the courts issue a complaint. A complaint is the legal court document that is signed by either an officer or a victim. The court will issue a summons complaint, which requires the accused to appear in court, or a warrant complain, which calls for the arrest of the accused.
Step Two: The Arrest. Once the warrant complaint is issued, a police officer can officially arrest the accused. (Television gets this wrong all the time.) According to NJ law, only indictable offenses can lead to an arrest. Indictable offenses include charges such as murder and manslaughter, robbery, arson, certain assault charges and burglary, to name a few.
Step Three: The Appearance. After a person is arrested, that person must appear before the court. At this time, the court determines the amount of bail (all within 12 hours of the complaint being issued) and the accused is informed of his/her rights to retain a criminal defense attorney. If the accused cannot afford a criminal defense attorney, he/she will be represented by a public defender.
Step Four: The Review. The prosecutor now determines whether or not to pursue a case. Sometimes the charges are dropped; sometimes they are reduced. In some cases, the prosecutor decides to move forward, leading us to…
Step Five: The Plea. At this time, the accused and his/her criminal lawyer decide whether to plead “guilty” or “not guilty.” Those who plead guilty will be sentenced, and the next steps are taken based on the crime. Those who plead not guilty are then returned to jail or allowed to go home (depending on whether or not they made bail) while the prosecutor present his case to a grand jury for indictment. An indictment by the grand jury means the accused may have to stand trial.
According to NJ law, even after an indictment the accused and his/her criminal defense attorney may continue to negotiate for lesser charges, or change the plea to “guilty.” The criminal justice system also allows defendants to forgo a jury trial if they wish, and to have their case decided by a judge in the Law Division of Superior Court.
The criminal justice system is complicated, and this is only an overview of how it works. If you’re facing charges, a criminal lawyer from Garces, Grabler & LeBrocq will give you a more complete understanding of the system and the rest of the steps you must take. Please call 1-800-923-3456 or contact us online to learn more about NJ law and what your next steps are.