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What is the process of a criminal case in New Jersey?

On Behalf of | Oct 1, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Being arrested on criminal charges can be terrifying. Whether you’ve been charged with something minor or major, it can turn your world upside down. In New Jersey, there is a certain process to a criminal case. If you’re facing charges in the state, you should know what to expect.


During this process, per criminal law, the defendant is charged with a crime. A complaint is issued by the police or a victim. Arrests made are required to be based on probable cause under the belief that the defendant committed the crime.

First appearance and conditions for pretrial release

The defendant is arrested after a complaint is issued or a warrant is issued. Sometimes, there is a summons ordering the individual to appear in court for the first appearance before a judge. There may be pretrial jail and the judge will issue conditions for pretrial release for those who are eligible for it.


Bail is set in criminal cases for defendants taken to jail. If bail is set, the defendant will have the opportunity to pay it in order to get out of jail for the time being. If the bail amount is higher than what they can afford, they can go to a bail bondsman for assistance.

Right to counsel

During a defendant’s first appearance in court, they are informed that they have the right to counsel. If they cannot afford one, they may have a public defender representing them.

Pre-indictment events

After the complaint is filed and the defendant has their first appearance, the prosecutor determines whether the case should continue being pursued. If it’s believed there could be a conviction obtained, evidence is reviewed and witnesses are interviewed. In some cases, the charges may be reduced or dismissed.

Substance abuse evaluation

Many defendants are found to be under the influence of drugs during the offense. As a result, an evaluation will take place to see if that’s the case and so the individual can enter rehab as part of their pretrial release or probation.

Plea bargains

Criminal law allows for plea bargains to occur between the prosecution and the defendant. If an agreement is reached, the defendant may receive a reduced sentence for a guilty plea. Sometimes, the charges might even be dismissed. The judge can approve or reject the plea based on the circumstances.

Pretrial intervention program

Pretrial intervention may be available for defendants charged with non-violent crimes. It allows them the chance to receive counseling and other types of support without being formally prosecuted or convicted. However, individuals who partake in the program may lose some privileges such as driving or owning a firearm.

Grand jury and indictment

Cases not downgraded or dismissed are presented to a grand jury by the prosecution for an indictment. The grand jury decides whether the individual should be indicted based on the evidence presented.


This is a formal notification of charges against a defendant and happens within 14 days after an indictment. When notified, the individual must appear before a judge. An investigation may be ordered and sentencing follows.

Deposition and pretrial conference

If the defendant pleads not guilty, a deposition may occur as they can continue negotiating. However, once the pretrial conference starts, the defendant will enter another plea. If they don’t plead guilty, the case goes to trial.


The trial takes place in front of a jury or judge. The defendant can waive a jury trial and have a judge preside over the case.

Pre-sentence investigation reports and sentencing

This allows the judge to determine the facts and issue a sentence based on the individual’s background and criminal history.

Post-conviction motion

Defendants can file a motion to have their sentence modified after they’ve been convicted. They can also file an appeal to determine whether the sentence is fair.