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|THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS|
Q. What must happen prior to an arrest?
Q. When and how is a complaint filed?
Q. Are defendants released prior to trial?
Q. What is bail?
Q. What happens after a criminal complaint is filed?
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 "screen" 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 complaint. The Prosecutors office may handle a criminal complaint in several different ways. The complaint may be administratively dismissed, remanded to municipal court, or prosecuted in Superior Court.
Administrative Dismissal: A complaint may be administratively dismissed for several reasons, mainly because there is insufficient evidence to proceed. In some instances, a complaint is 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 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 can hear cases from throughout the County.
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 plea agreement or pre-trial intervention. If the defendant rejects the plea offer or is not appropriate for 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 sentencing.
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 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 testimony.
Arraignment: After 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 make 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 courts handle criminal cases?
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