PROCEDURES FOLLOWING A COMPLAINT
Please describe what happens after a criminal
complaint is filed
What is a warrant, what is bail, and what
is a summons?
What courts handle criminal cases?
Why does the Prosecutor's Office plea bargain
for Process Chart
Q. Please describe what happens after a criminal
complaint is filed.
A. Once a criminal complaint is filed it will be forwarded to either the
appropriate county prosecutors office (in Essex County, the Essex
County Prosecutor's Office) or the local municipal court. All complaints
involving serious crimes or a combination of serious crimes and disorderly
persons offenses will be forwarded to the county prosecutors office
for review. Criminal complaints involving only disorderly persons offenses
will be forwarded to the municipal court. The municipal court will advise
the complainant and defendant of the hearing date. The court may issue
a summons or a warrant followed by bail, depending upon the circumstances
of the case, as to insure the defendant's knowledge of the complaint and
availability for all following proceedings.
When a criminal complaint involving a serious crime or a combination of
crimes and disorderly persons offenses is forwarded to the county prosecutors
office, the county prosecutors office will perform an initial examination
of the case. The county prosecutors office reviews the complaint,
obtains the relevant police reports, contacts the complainant or victim
and/or the investigating officer, and performs any additional investigation
as necessary. After such review, the county prosecutors office will
determine the appropriate course of action.
The county prosecutors office has broad discretion to determine
the appropriate disposition for a criminal complaint, and thus may handle
a complaint in several different ways. The complaint may be administratively
dismissed, remanded to municipal court, held for prosecution in Special
Remand Court, or prosecuted in Superior Court.
Administrative Dismissal: A complaint may
be administratively dismissed for several reasons. Chief among these reasons
is the insufficiency of credible evidence. In some instances, a complaint
may be dismissed at the request of the victim. However, a victims
request to dismiss a complaint is not always honored. Once a criminal
complaint is signed, the complaint is prosecuted on behalf of the State
of New Jersey, not the individual who signed the complaint. When deciding
whether to dismiss a complaint, several other factors are considered including,
but not limited to, the following: (1) the nature and extent of the defendants
prior criminal history; (2) the severity of the crime; and (3) whether
the defendant has other pending charges.
Municipal Remand: A complaint is remanded
to municipal court when the prosecutors office determines that the
complaint can be adequately dealt with in municipal court. When a complaint
is remanded to the municipal court, the original charge is amended to
a disorderly persons offense and the complaint is returned to the municipal
court. All further proceedings are handled in municipal court. Once a
case is remanded to municipal court, the municipal prosecutor generally
handles the complaint. However, in certain instances, a disorderly persons
offense is retained by the prosecutor's office and is heard in Special
Remand Court, which is like a municipal court but hears cases from throughout
Complaint Prosecuted At The County Level:
If a criminal complaint is not administratively dismissed or remanded
to the municipal court, the County Prosecutors Office or the Attorney
Generals Office will prosecute the complaint in Superior Court.
When the prosecutors office decides to prosecute the complaint in
Superior Court, the case may be considered for resolution through a pre-indictment
plea agreement or pre-trial intervention. If the defendant rejects the
plea offer and is not appropriate for pre-trial intervention at this stage,
the case proceeds to grand jury. If an early plea offer is accepted, the
Pre-Indictment Disposition Court will consider the plea and arrange for
Grand Jury: The Federal and State Constitutions
guarantee every individual charged with a crime the right to have his
matter reviewed by an independent body called a grand jury. A person charged
with a disorderly persons or motor vehicle offense does not have a right
to have the case presented to a grand jury. In certain instances, where
an investigation indicates that a crime may have been committed but no
complaint has yet been filed, the case can be referred by the Prosecutor
directly to the grand jury. The grand jury, comprised of 23 citizens,
hears evidence regarding the criminal matter and determines if there is
probable cause for the case to proceed further. If the grand jury finds
that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed further, the
person charged with the crime is "indicted".
Grand jury proceedings are confidential. The grand jury meets in closed
sessions and all evidence collected by them is kept secret unless and
until a Superior Court Judge orders otherwise. The only individuals permitted
in the room during a grand jury session are the grand jurors, the prosecutor,
the witness and the court reporter. Neither a judge nor a defense attorney
is present during the proceeding. Usually, the defendant does not testify
at grand jury. The defendant is also not present during another witness
Arraignment: Once a defendant has been
indicted by the grand jury, the defendant must appear in court for an
arraignment conference. At the arraignment conference, the defendant formally
enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty,
the case is scheduled for sentencing. Following arraignment, a Pre-Disposition
Conference is held, where the State may present a plea offer.
Once the case proceeds to Superior Court, the case can be resolved by
placing the defendant into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program, through
a plea agreement or by trial.
Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program: PTI
is a one time opportunity for defendants who have no prior criminal history.
Once a defendant has had the benefit of PTI in New Jersey or any other
State, the defendant is not eligible for PTI. PTI is an agreement between
the State and defendant. The Probation Department supervises the PTI defendant.
The defendant must pay an application fee. As part of the PTI agreement,
a defendant may have to pay fines and restitution, perform community service,
and depending on the facts of the case, obtain counseling, forfeit weapons,
or have no contact with specific individuals. If the defendant successfully
completes PTI, he will have no criminal record of that charge. If the
defendant fails to comply with the conditions of PTI, he is terminated
from PTI and his case is put on the trial list. The defendant can then
plead guilty or proceed to trial.
Trial: When a case proceeds to trial, the
State must prove the defendants guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
A petit jury consisting of twelve jurors decides whether the defendant
is guilty or not guilty. A guilty or not guilty verdict must be unanimous.
If the jurors cannot agree on a verdict, there is a mistrial. If there
is a mistrial, the defendant can be retried before a different jury.
Appeal: The defendant or the State may
appeal the trial court's interpretation of the law in regard to the procedures
used at trial or in the legal interpretation of the evidence presented.
Findings of fact by a judge or jury generally may not be reviewed. An
appellate court may order a new trial or may overturn a guilty verdict
if it finds that the trial court misapplied the law.
Q. What is a warrant, what is bail, and what is a
A. A warrant is an order issued by a court requiring that a person suspected
of committing a crime be apprehended and taken into custody, i.e. be arrested.
A person can also be arrested without a warrant by an officer having probably
cause that the person committed a crime. After a person is arrested, they
make an initial appearance at Central Judicial Processing Court or before
the Criminal Assignment Judge, depending on the seriousness of the crime
charged. They are informed of the charges, and the judge decides if the
defendant will be held in jail or can be released. The judge will consider
public safety and the probability that the defendant will remain available
for all upcoming proceedings. The judge can release the accused on personal
recognizance, or set bail as a condition of release. Bail is the posting
of something of value to permit the release of a suspect from jail designed
to assure future appearance at all stages of the criminal process. If
at any point the suspect fails to appear as required the bail is forfeited
to the state and when apprehended the person is sent to jail. The accused
usually purchases a bail bond to post with the court. A summons is a court
order requiring the person to come to court to answer the charges filled
Q. What courts handle criminal cases?
A. Municipal courts hear and decide cases involving disorderly persons
offenses. There are no jury trials in municipal court. The judge decides
if someone has broken the law, and imposes fines of up to $1,000 and /
or imprisonment for up to 6 months. Municipal courts can also present
charges and set bail for serious crimes. However, the Superior Court,
Criminal Division handles the trial in every case where an adult has been
accused of committing a serious crime. In such a case, the accused has
a right to a jury trial. Crimes committed by persons under 18 years of
age are considered acts of juvenile delinquency. Such cases are usually
heard and decided in the Family Division of Superior Court, although very
serious offenses can be treated by the Criminal Division as if the defendant
were an adult. Appeals from municipal court decisions are heard in the
Superior Court Criminal Division, and appeals from trials held in the
Criminal Division are made to the Superior Court Appellate Division. Final
appeals can be taken to the New Jersey Supreme Court if a constitutional
issue is involved, in death penalty cases, and if there was a split decision
in the Appellate Division.
Q. Why does the Prosecutor's Office plea bargain
A. Plea agreements are made if and when they would benefit the overall
goals of protecting the public and imposing justice through due process.
If every defendant charged with a crime were to go to trial, our criminal
justice system would literally come to a standstill. Victims would have
to wait years for a decision, witnesses would lose interest, memories
would fade, evidence would deteriorate, defendants would disappear, etc.
In certain instances, a defendant will be offered a sentencing decision
that considers his or her cooperation with the prosecution, especially
where the defendant's cooperation allows the prosecution of other criminals
who would otherwise go free. The majority of defendants decide to plead
guilty rather than contest their guilt by trial, and receive sentences
which appropriately redress the wrongs they have committed.