Criminal Legal Process in Ocean County, NJ
If you or a loved one were just arrested in New Jersey, you are likely nervous and anxious about what will happen next. While there are plenty of unknowns left in your case immediately following an arrest, understanding the criminal justice process in New Jersey can help to demystify the next steps. With local offices in Ocean County, our criminal defense lawyers at Proetta & Oliver regularly defend clients arrested in Toms River, Brick, Manchester, Seaside Heights, Lacey Township, Jackson, and throughout the area. If you would like a free consultation with an attorney about your specific arrest and charges, contact us today at (848) 238-2100.
I was Arrested in NJ, What Happens Next?
After you are arrested you will be processed by the police or “booked.” During this process, the police will take all of your identifying information like your name, age, height, weight, and fingerprints. They will collect your clothing, identification, money, and other personal items. The police will also determine if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and whether you need medical attention. Whether you will be kept in jail prior to your first appearance depends on the specific charges the police file against you. For instance, if you’ve been charged with disorderly conduct, marijuana possession, drug paraphernalia, DWI, or shoplifting, police will likely release you on your own recognizance after booking. On the other hand, if you are facing charges for a domestic violence offense, robbery, aggravated assault, intent to distribute drugs such as heroin or cocaine, or another indictable crime, you will be held in jail before your first appearance.
At your first appearance before a judge, or arraignment, the judge will inform you what offense or offenses you have been charged with. When your first appearance will occur depends on when you are arrested and charged. It may occur the same day you are arrested or the following day. If you are arrested on a Friday night, you will probably see a judge through video teleconference at the jail on Saturday morning. If you are arrested on Saturday or Sunday, you will probably see a judge on Monday morning.
The prosecution may or may not file a motion for detention in your case. If they do, you will have a detention hearing where the judge will determine whether you should be detained pending your trial. New Jersey recently did away with the traditional bail system and moved to a risk-based assessment to determine if a defendant is a threat to public safety, a flight risk, or at risk for obstructing justice.
The judge will consider your Pretrial Safety Assessment (PSA) score and Decision Making Framework (DMF) recommendations for conditions of release during your detention hearing. Ultimately, the judge must order your release unless he or she determines that no condition or set of conditions could reasonable assure that you will fail to appear in court, harm others, or otherwise obstruct justice.
Pre-trial hearings are hearings about preliminary issues like the admission of evidence and are heard before a judge, not a jury. One example is the Pre-Indictment Conference. This is where the prosecution and your criminal defense attorney try to resolve the case before it is presented to a grand jury. Also known as an Early Disposition Conference, this hearing can result in downgrading the charges, a dismissal, application for a diversionary program such as Pretrial Intervention (PTI), or a plea agreement.
If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense, your case will be heard and decided by a municipal judge in the town where you were arrested. If you are charged with an indictable offense—a fourth, third, second, or first degree offense—your trial will take place at the Superior Court in the county where you were charged and you will have the right to a jury trial. Felony charges in Ocean County are heard in the Ocean County Superior Court in Toms River, NJ.
At trial, the prosecution has the burden of proving that you committed every element of the offense you are charged with beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if even one juror has a doubt about whether you committed the offense, you should be found not guilty. In the case of a disorderly persons charge heard in municipal court, the prosecution must convince the municipal court judge beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offense you were arrested and subsequently charged with.
If you are convicted of the offense charged, your case will move on to the sentencing phase. A jury is not involved in this stage of the criminal justice process and a judge will order your sentence, which he or she must issue based on New Jersey sentencing guidelines.
Get Legal Guidance from a Local Criminal Defense Lawyer
While there are many details of the outcome of your case that are still unknown immediately after an arrest, you now have an idea of the general process your case will follow. If you have been charged with a criminal offense in New Jersey, do not go through this process alone. With the potential consequence of jail time and significant fines, it is important to be represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can advocate on your behalf. Call our Ocean County criminal attorneys at (848) 238-2100 for answers about your arrest today. Consultations are free and so is the information you need at this critical time.