27 Nov 23

An Overview of the Pretrial Process in New Jersey Criminal Cases

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Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 10:57 pm

Navigating the Pretrial Process as a Defendant in New Jersey

Facing criminal charges in New Jersey can be an incredibly stressful and confusing time. As a defendant, you may have a ton of questions about what happens next and what your options are. This article aims to provide an overview of the key parts of the pretrial process in New Jersey criminal cases, to help you understand what to expect.

Getting Arrested and Charged

The first step is usually when someone gets arrested by the police and hit with charges. The charges will list the specific criminal offenses in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (Title 2C) that you’re being accused of.

After arrest, defendants go through booking and are held until they can appear before a judge for the first time. This initial appearance needs to happen pretty quickly – usually within 24-48 hours.

The First Appearance

The first appearance is when you’re brought before a Superior Court judge and informed of the charges against you. This is when the court will also address setting bail or conditions of pretrial release while your case moves forward.

Some key things happen at first appearances:

  • You’re told about your rights, including the right to an attorney.
  • If you can’t afford a lawyer, you can ask to get a public defender appointed to represent you.
  • The judge considers whether to set bail or release you pretrial under certain conditions. Factors like flight risk, danger to the community, and prior offenses come into play here.
  • You enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty.
  • Preliminary hearing and detention hearing dates may be set.

Getting a Lawyer

Having a criminal defense attorney to advise and represent you is extremely important. If you can’t afford a private lawyer, New Jersey courts use an income formula to determine if you qualify for a free public defender. Just know that around 80-90% of defendants in NJ end up with public defenders, so don’t be afraid or embarrassed to request one if you need it.

The Arraignment

The arraignment usually happens 4-6 weeks after the first appearance. This is when you’re formally read the charges against you again and asked to enter an official plea of guilty or not guilty. By now you’ll hopefully have a defense lawyer beside you to consult as needed before entering your plea.

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Pretrial Conferences

In the weeks and months after arraignment, there are status conferences with the judge to make sure both sides exchange evidence and information (discovery) properly. This is all leading up to the final pretrial conference.

At the final pretrial conference – sometimes called a settlement conference – the judge checks in to see if any plea bargain has been reached or if the case is definitely headed to trial. So pretrial conferences provide opportunities for plea negotiations between your lawyer and the prosecution.

Pretrial Motions and Hearings

There might be various pretrial motions brought by either side to argue for or against the admissibility of certain evidence, statements, etc. Your lawyer would handle filing and arguing any motions on your behalf.

If motions are filed, the court holds motion hearings so each side can present arguments, and the judge can make rulings to decide the motions.

Pretrial Intervention

For some first-time offenders facing less serious charges, pretrial intervention (PTI) is an alternative option to avoid formal conviction. PTI involves entering a probation-like program for 6 months to 3 years instead of going through prosecution. It’s very discretionary and you need an attorney to advocate for admission into PTI if it seems suitable.

Going to Trial

If no plea deal happens and pretrial motions don’t resolve the case, it heads to a trial by jury. The trial process itself can take weeks or months to get scheduled. It’s extremely important to have a skilled criminal defense lawyer fighting for you at trial. They know how to argue against charges and raise reasonable doubt in jurors’ minds.

I know this is just a high-level overview of key pretrial events in New Jersey criminal cases. Every case has unique details and challenges. The most critical thing is getting an experienced attorney on your side to guide you through the process. Don’t hesitate to explore all your defense options along the way. Stay hopeful – we’re in this fight together! Let me know if you have any other questions.