THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
What is the difference between the Criminal
Justice System and the Civil Justice System?
What is a disorderly persons offense and
how is it different than a crime?
What is a Grand Jury?
Can I be called to serve on a Grand Jury?
What is the difference between a Grand Jury
and a Petit Jury?
What must the Prosecutor's Office present
to a Grand Jury to gain an indictment?
What is the difference between the Essex
County Prosecutors Office, the State Attorney Generals Office in Trenton,
and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark?
Why does the Prosecutor's Office perform
investigations when the local police, State Police, FBI, and other federal
agencies also investigate crime?
Q. What is the difference between the Criminal Justice
System and the Civil Justice System?
A. The critical difference is the penalty involved and the burden of proof.
Those who are found guilty of crimes, even minor ones, risk the loss of
their liberty as a result. Civil wrongs are typically addressed by an
award of monetary damages. In addition, the burden of proof in criminal
matters is "beyond a reasonable doubt", which is much stricter
than the "preponderance of evidence" standard that is used in
most civil cases.
Q. What is a disorderly persons offense and how is
it different than a crime?
A. In New Jersey there are basically two types of criminal offenses: crimes
and disorderly persons offenses. (In other states these two types of offenses
are often referred to as "felonies" and "misdemeanors.")
Crimes are punishable by more than six months in jail and are prosecuted
by either the County Prosecutor's Office or the Attorney General's Office
in the Superior Court, which in Essex County is located in Newark. In
addition, those charged with committing crimes are entitled to have their
matters reviewed by a grand jury and tried by a petit jury. Disorderly
persons offenses are punishable by up to a maximum of six months in jail
and are typically prosecuted either by a municipal prosecutor or citizen
in a municipal court. Those charged with disorderly persons offenses are
not entitled to either grand jury presentation or trial by jury.
Q. What is a Grand Jury?
A. Both the State and Federal Constitutions guarantee every individual
charged with a crime the right to have their matters reviewed by an independent
body before they can be made subject to significant criminal penalties.
This body is called a grand jury. In Essex County there are 10 grand juries
in session at any time. Each is comprised of 23 grand jurors who are selected
at random from the Essex County adult citizenry by the Assignment Judge
of the County Superior Court. Citizens selected to serve on a grand jury
meet once a week for 15 weeks. They hear evidence regarding criminal matters
and decide if those charged should be "indicted", or formally
made to answer for their alleged offenses. Because of the sensitive and
important subject matter that the grand juries deal with, they meet in
closed session and all evidence collected by them is kept secret unless
and until a Superior Court Judge orders otherwise.
Q. Can I be called to serve on a Grand Jury?
A. Any adult Essex County citizen who qualifies for jury duty can be called
to serve on either a Grand Jury or a Petit Jury.
Q. What is the difference between a Grand Jury and
a Petit Jury?
A. The Grand Jury focuses only on deciding whether criminal indictments
should be handed down. A Petit Jury serves to make findings of fact in
either criminal or civil trials, and serves only for the course of one
Q. What must the Prosecutor's Office present to a
Grand Jury to gain an indictment?
A. The Grand Jury can indict a person accused of crime if a prima facie
case supporting the charges is presented by the Prosecutor's Office. This
is a lower "burden of proof" than is required for a conviction
at trial, where evidence must prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt".
A Grand Jury indictment is not a finding of guilt; it is a justification
to take the case to trial.
Q. What is the difference between the Essex County
Prosecutors Office, the State Attorney Generals Office in Trenton, and
the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark?
A. All three offices are involved in and responsible for the prosecution
of crime. The U.S. Attorney maintains primary jurisdiction and expertise
regarding crimes defined by federal laws, e.g. crimes involving interstate
activity or concern. The State Attorney General is responsible for both
criminal and civil enforcement of the laws throughout the State. The county
prosecutor's offices, including the Essex County Prosecutor's Office,
can be looked at as the local criminal prosecution arms of the Attorney
General. However, when criminal matters arise that extensively cross county
boundaries or are so complex as to require expensive, specialized resources
(for example certain insurance fraud and environmental pollution cases),
the Attorney General's office is often the more appropriate prosecuting
agency. Even when the U.S. Attorney or State Attorney General take the
lead in a criminal matter, the Essex County Prosecutors Office often remains
involved in investigating and preparing the case.
Q. Why does the Prosecutor's Office perform investigations
when the local police, State Police, FBI, and other federal agencies also
A. The Prosecutor's Office has an investigations staff of over 150 men
and women with a wide range of abilities and technical support available
to them. Local police are usually the first to respond to a crime incident,
and are generally responsible to secure the scene, protect the public,
limit personal injuries and property damages, make arrests and gather
all evidence from the scene. Many local departments continue the investigation
so as to gather and evaluate "secondary" evidence, e.g. evidence
regarding the motives and preparations involved in the crime, the other
persons involved, etc. Once sufficient evidence is gained to obtain an
indictment, the Prosecutor's Office becomes primarily responsible to prepare
the case for trial. Recall that the "burden of proof" to indict
is lower than the burden to convict. Therefore, the Prosecutor's Office
needs the capacity to dig deeper and develop stronger evidence as to support
the higher burden of proof needed for conviction. Given that investigators
at this stage must work very closely with the Assistant Prosecutors handling
a case, it makes sense to have investigators and lawyers working together
under one roof. The Prosecutor's Office investigation staff has always
cooperated closely with local police, State Police and federal agencies.