Looking for New Jersey criminal law information?
Listed below are some key points that you will encounter during a criminal investigation:
Bail is required to be set within twelve hours of the issuance of a complaint. All defendants have a right to bail under our state constitution. If bail is posted, defendants are released until the charges listed in the complaint are resolved. Defendants can be required to post funds or property to assure that they will appear in court in the future. They may be required to deposit funds or property with the criminal division manager in exchange for a promise to appear. If defendants have significant ties to the community, or no criminal history, they may be considered for a Release on Own Recognizance or R.O.R., which is an affidavit certifying that they are aware of the charges levied against them, and will appear in court to face them. Defendants may also be required to give a personal bond, which is a promise to appear or face a judgment , whereby a specified amount of money is forfeited. Some defendants pay a bail bondsman to post funds on their behalf. These defendants may be ordered to post a higher bail, or have no bail set. They will remain in jail until the charges are disposed. If they are released and appear in court as required, bail money may be refunded in full upon case resolution or disposition. Once defendants are released, bail is discharged to the surety.
Right To Counsel
At their first appearance defendants are advised of their right to counsel. This means that they are entitled to have an attorney represent them and answer the charges. If they indicate that they are unable to afford an attorney, Criminal Division staff are assigned to conduct indigence investigations. These investigations consider defendants’ assets and liabilities, and recommend that cases be assigned to a public defender if a defendant is unable to afford a private attorney. Private attorneys are usually either self-employed or work for private law firms who charge an hourly rate for services.
In making indigence determinations, Criminal Division staff consider defendants’ ability to post bail, the amount of bail posted, the willingness of friends and family members to pay for an attorney, and any factor related to a defendant’s claim of impoverishment. They review tax returns, credit and wage records and any other relevant information regarding the ability of defendants to hire their own attorneys. If a defendant is declared indigent, a public defender or “pool attorney” will handle the case until it is resolved, by a “plea”, “downgrade,” “dismissal, or Pretrial Intervention”, or “trial” through a sentencing process. Some downgraded cases are ordered, or “remanded” back to the local municipal court for disposition. A local public defender may be assigned to the case by the magistrate.
If an investigation reveals assets or it is determined that a defendant has some means to pay for an attorney, the criminal case supervisor will recommend that a defendant’s application for indigent defense services be denied. A Criminal Division judge may rule on the recommendation, ordering a defendant to hire an attorney, allow “pro-se” or “self” representation, or order a defendant to consult attorneys who may take their case at a reduced rate. Over 85% of all criminal cases have a public defender assigned.
Following the filing of a complaint and the first court appearance, the prosecutor’s office in each county determines whether to pursue a criminal complaint. Prosecutors determine if cases have merit and sufficient evidence to pursue a conviction. In most counties, the prosecutor’s Case Screening Unit reviews police reports and interviews victims and witnesses to determine if the original charges will be prosecuted. If there is insufficient evidence, the charges are downgraded to disorderly persons offenses and “remanded” or sent to the municipal courts for a hearing or dismissed. In some counties, prosecutors pre-screen potential Superior Court filings before a complaint is signed.
In many cases, the prosecutor and a defendant’s lawyer will negotiate a plea bargain. In a plea agreement, the prosecutor may offer the accused an arrangement where s/he will recommend a reduced term of incarceration or probation in exchange for a guilty plea. In some instances, the charges are reduced or dismissed as part of the plea bargain. Maximum sentence terms may also be part of negotiated agreements. Criminal Division individual judge teams, managed by team leaders, coordinate court dates with the prosecutor and the defense attorney regarding the plea agreement and establishes a court date for the plea to be entered.
Defendants entering a plea must sign a statement certifying that they understand the plea and are entering into the agreement voluntarily and without pressure from the prosecution or their own attorney. They also acknowledge that the Criminal Division judges are not bound by the agreement when deciding and rendering sentences. If a judge perceives that the plea bargain is too lenient, the judge can reject the plea and order the prosecution and defense parties to renegotiate, or order the matter set down for trial. 30% of all complaints are settled through pretrial programs and negotiations . After a criminal case is indicted, over 70% are resolved without proceeding to a full trial.
The Criminal Practice Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts tracks all criminal cases in all counties from the time a complaint is issued to its disposition. If some courts have persistent backlogs, an analysis of the system can be made through the division’s statewide criminal case computer network known as Promis Gavel. Methods for reducing backlogs can be formulated by the Conference of Presiding Judges and Criminal Division managers, or local speedy trial coordinating committees led by criminal presiding judges.
Defendants pleading guilty as a result of the plea agreement must acknowledge their plea in open court. Defendants who plead guilty after plea negotiations do not surrender their right to appeal their convictions to the Appellate Division of Superior Court.
Pre Trial Intervention Program, or PTI
Criminal Division Case Supervisors conduct investigations on adult defendants who apply for Pretrial Intervention. This is a diversionary program which permits certain defendants to avoid formal prosecution and conviction by entering into a term of court supervised community living, often with counseling or other support. Criminal Division Managers direct this program. Case supervisors prepare reports to aid the Criminal Division Manager and the prosecutor in deciding whether to recommend approval and for criminal judges determining if defendants will be admitted. Defendants opting for this program apply directly to Criminal Division Management. Case supervisors conduct investigations into the history of all applicants, to ensure their eligibility. Admission to the program requires the consent of the prosecutor, the Criminal Division Manager and the criminal judge.
Defendants charged with violent offenses generally are not admitted. Probationers and parolees are also generally excluded, since they have prior convictions. Persons accused of racketeering or organized crime are generally not admitted, as well as public officials who are accused of abusing their positions for personal gain against the public trust. Prosecutors must be consulted before an applicant charged with a first or second degree crime can even be considered for PTI.
The objective of PTI is to provide an incentive for first time non-violent offenders to rehabilitate. Conditions attached to judicial orders for pretrial intervention may require defendants to obtain a substance abuse evaluation from TASC, participate in substance abuse or mental health counseling or community service, or submit to urine testing, pay restitution and fines, or give up a firearm or driver’s license. Participants have criminal charges formally suspended for up to three years. Once a participant completes the program, charges are dismissed. However, if defendants fail to complete special conditions attached to their term of PTI supervision, the participant can be terminated from the program, triggering a resumption of the formal criminal process. These defendants may face indictment and trial, and if convicted, face the penalties prescribed by the criminal code. The Administrative Office of the Courts maintains a computer registry of all PTI applicants, to ensure a person is not admitted into PTI more than once.
The Grand Jury
If a criminal case has not been, downgraded, diverted or dismissed, the prosecutor will present the case to a grand jury for an indictment. The grand jury is composed of a group of citizens who have been selected from voter registration, drivers license and tax lists. The grand jury considers evidence presented by the county prosecutor and determines if there is sufficient evidence to formally charge defendants and require them to respond to the charge(s). An indictment is not a finding of guilt. Generally, neither the accused nor their attorneys are present. Witnesses normally testify regarding the crime. After considering evidence, if a majority of the 23 jurors vote to indict defendants, they must face further criminal proceedings. The return of an indictment is called a true bill. If a majority finds the evidence to be insufficient to indict, the grand jury enters a no bill and the charge(s) are dismissed. The jury may, however, decide to charge defendants with a less serious offense, to be downgraded or remanded to the municipal court. The accused must appear in municipal court to face a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons charge.
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