Stages of a Middlesex County Criminal Case in Superior Court


What Happens with the Criminal Process in Middlesex County NJ?

Unless you are in the legal profession, what happens to people after they are arrested probably never crosses your mind. But say you have been arrested for an indictable crime, meaning a fourth, third, second, or first degree crime. Wondering what happens after you are arrested, booked, and charged with a single or multiple crimes in New Jersey? If you or someone you know has been arrested for anything from unlawful possession of a weapon, to burglary, or aggravated assault in New Brunswick, Woodbridge, Edison, Piscataway, Plainsboro, Monroe, or another town in the Middlesex County area, you probably want to know.

Two Ways to be Arrested and Charged with a Crime in New Jersey

There are two ways to be arrested and charged with a criminal offense in New Jersey, and the distinction matters for many reasons when it comes to your case. The first option is that the court issues an arrest warrant or a summons to appear in court for formal arrest and charges. If a defendant is arrested at the scene of the crime, the police may decide whether to file a warrant or summons complaint based on the person’s criminal history and the nature of the crime. For first-time defendants who committed a lesser crime, it is more likely the complaint on a summons will be issued, which means they are released and are entrusted to return to court for their next hearing. A warrant complaint means they are arrested and placed in jail until they see the judge within a day or two.

After arrest, booking, and intake of your personal information, a defendant is evaluated in the Pre-Trial Services of the Superior Court’s criminal division for criminal history to determine a bail score, or a public safety assessment, which figures in the decision of whether to release or hold the defendant in jail pending a detention hearing. Here, an attorney can help you secure your release, as the prosecutor may file a motion to keep you in custody. Cash bail does not operate in New Jersey anymore, but limited cases may still require bail be posted before getting released from jail. Otherwise, you are released if you are not considered a risk of re-offending or a danger to public safety, and are likely to return on the next hearing date.

Pre-Indictment Steps and Options when Facing Charges for an Indictable Crime in Middlesex County

In your first appearance 72 hours after your arrest and incarceration, the judge reads the charges against you and advises you of your rights. You have the right to counsel, which will be afforded to you if, after financial verification, the court finds you cannot pay for one. In this initial stage, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office evaluates the case evidence, by weighing witness statements, police interviews, officers’ reports, and other documents to see if the charges can be supported. If not, the charges may be downgraded to municipal court disorderly persons offenses or dismissed. If enough evidence exists, the case goes to a grand jury that determines whether the defendant is indicted on the charges. Before the grand jury though, your attorney may want to try to get the charges dismissed, reduced, or pled to a lesser offense to save you from going through a trial. You may even reach a plea agreement, exchanging your guilty plea for a reduced sentence or probation. A judge must still approve it, however.

You may also be able to pursue a dismissal of the charges through the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, which diverts your case into a supervised program that may consist of drug abuse counseling, mental health counseling, drug testing, community service, restitution payment, fines, and weapons surrender. The purpose is to help a first-time non-violent offender get back on track as a law-abiding citizen. After completing the program, the defendant has no record of conviction, if the defendant makes a successful application into the program and finishes the probationary term. Ultimately, the Pre-Indictment Conference and related hearings provide opportunities to resolve the case in lieu of a grand jury review, possible indictment, and trial. However, this is not always the best option when seeking the most beneficial outcome in your case, especially if the state’s case against you is thin or has problems that may be called to the forefront during pre-trial motions or trial itself.

Grand Jury Presentation and Indictment Decision in New Brunswick NJ

If you cannot work out an agreement or obtain admission into PTI or another program like Drug Court, the grand jury moves forward and reviews the evidence presented by the prosecutor. The grand jury consists of 23 local citizens who either return an indictment or no bill, meaning no indictment.  If the grand jury finds sufficient evidence exists to indict the defendant, this means that the case will move forward and the defendant will face prosecution. The intended goal of the prosecution is to prove the defendant guilty of the offense or offenses included in the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt.

14 days after indictment, the defendant must enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest at an arraignment hearing. Before the arraignment hearing, the prosecutor exchanges evidence to be used against the defendant with the defendant or their attorney. But prior to the arraignment, the defendant may again request PTI or enter a plea. At the arraignment, the formal plea is entered and if a plea bargain was reached, the plea may be to reduced charges. If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge orders a presentence investigation.

Pre-Trial Motions and Trial Basics in Middlesex County Criminal Court

If the case proceeds to trial, plea negotiations may continue and the prosecution and defense may file motions asking the court to do something, like suppress evidence illegally obtained. Before trial, the judge sets a schedule of pre-trial hearings. At the pre-trial conference, the judge assesses whether all motions have been filed and discovery (exchanging of evidence) is complete, essentially seeing if the case is ready for trial. At trial, the prosecution must prove its case with evidence and convince a panel of twelve jurors that beyond a reasonable doubt, the defendant committed the crimes charged. The defense presents their side of the case and then the judge instructs the jury as to what they must decide and which laws they must apply to the case. The jury then deliberates, meaning they discuss and vote on a verdict. Upon a unanimous vote, the verdict is given to the judge to read. Without a unanimous decision, the judge may declare a hung jury.

If not guilty, the defendant goes free and the case is over. If guilty, the defendant must return to court for sentencing. The presentence investigation considers the right sentence for the circumstances within the constraints of the law. The judge looks at the overall picture of the defendant’s history and circumstances, considering whether the defendant is a good candidate for probation and whether they can pay restitution and fines. However, some crimes come with mandatory prison and minimum terms that tie the judge’s hands, such as those governed by the No Early Release Act. Afterward, a defendant may appeal the case or file motions to modify the sentence.

Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers Navigate the Criminal Process for You in Middlesex County

No doubt, a criminal defense attorney is necessary throughout the criminal process, with many opportunities to negotiate for a lesser sentence, get the case dismissed altogether, avoid a trial, protect your constitutional rights, and reduce the case to the least possible charges against you. Whether you have been charged with robberyeluding policeterroristic threats, sexual assault, or another crime carrying serious repercussions, do not wait to get the most knowledgeable and experienced defense counsel you can find. With local offices in Middlesex County and decades of combined experience defending clients facing a broad range of criminal charges in Superior Court in New Brunswick, our firm is thoroughly prepared to handle every step of your criminal case, advocating for you and pursuing all avenues toward the top results. If you would like to speak with a criminal lawyer about your particular situation, contact us at (732) 659-9600. We provide free phone consultations, as well as virtual and in-person appointments to best serve your needs.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.