You're just sitting down to dinner in your home in Edison when a police officer shows up at your door with a warrant for your arrest. Or perhaps you're out on the town with friends and an officer arrests you at the scene of a crime. Whatever your story, if you or a loved one has been arrested in Edison, you're probably feeling overwhelmed and upset. New Jersey criminal procedure and law are complicated, and being charged with a crime is no joke. This article outlines some important information about what you can expect of a typical criminal case in Edison.
In order for a New Jersey law enforcement officer to arrest you, he or she must either have probable cause, have observed the crime, or have a proper arrest warrant. At the time of your arrest, the arresting officer must inform you of your Miranda rights. If the officer fails to properly read you your rights, any statements you make in an interrogation may be prevented from being used against you in court.
Booking, Bail and Release
After an arrest in or near Edison, you'll likely be taken to the Middlesex Adult Correction Center where you'll be "booked." Booking consists of an officer taking your personal information. Your personal belongings will be confiscated until your release. New Jersey also requires that arrestees undergo a physical examination before detention.
All arrestees in Middlesex County have the right to bail, which must be set within 12 hours of the issuance of a criminal complaint under New Jersey law. Judges are generally required to follow the New Jersey bail schedule for certain crimes. However, arrestees who are not considered a flight risk may be released "on their own recognizance" and might not be required to post bail. This is called an O.R. release.
Grand Jury Indictment
If you're accused of a felony, the state will assemble a grand jury to consider the evidence against you. The accused is not allowed to attend the grand jury proceeding, which is held in secret. If the grand jury determines that there is probable cause for the charges against you, you'll be indicted. The grand jury proceeding must take place within six days of your arrest if you're being detained and have not been released on bail.
Your First Appearance
If you're charged with a misdemeanor crime after your arrest, the prosecutor's office will issue a criminal complaint against you and you will generally be given a summons to appear in court, upon your release from detention. This summons has a date for your first appearance. A first appearance is not the same thing as an arraignment, but in New Jersey, the two are often combined (unless you've been charged with a felony).
At your first appearance, the judge will inform you that you have the right to be represented by an attorney. If you can't afford an attorney, a public defender will be appointed to your case, if one has not already been appointed.
Felony Arraignment and Pleas
If you're the subject of a felony indictment, your arraignment must be held no later than 50 days after the indictment. At your arraignment, the judge will read the criminal complaint, which includes the charges against you, and you'll make a plea.
Pre-Trial Conference, Motions and Plea Bargaining
Your defense attorney has the opportunity to meet with the prosecutor to discuss your case during a pre-trial conference. The defense and prosecution might discuss the possibility of a plea bargain under which the prosecution will agree to drop some of the charges against you or charge you with a lesser offense in exchange for your guilty plea. Your attorney may also make pre-trial motions regarding your case and the evidence against you.
If the possible penalty for your crime exceeds 6 months jail time, you have the right to choose whether the case will be tried before a judge or a jury. As discussed above, many cases never make it to the trial stage because the defendant may choose to plea guilty to the charges against him.
At your criminal trial, your defense attorney and the prosecutor will make opening statements, call and cross examine witnesses, present evidence, and make closing statements. If your case is being tried before a jury, the judge will give jury instructions. The jury will then exit the courtroom and deliberate the case in secrecy.
Once the jury has made a unanimous decision, the jury will announce its verdict. If the jury isn't able to reach a unanimous verdict, the judge will declare a mistrial and either dismiss your case or set another trial date. If the jury's verdict is guilty, the judge will schedule a sentencing hearing, which may take place directly after the verdict is announced.
Under New Jersey law, potential criminal sentences vary depending on the severity of the crime and the discretion of the judge. Misdemeanor convictions often carry fines and probation, and may include jail time up to one year. Individuals convicted of a misdemeanor or felony may also be required to participate in certain rehabilitation programs, such as drug and alcohol education. Felony convictions are more serious and will likely carry prison time in a state penitentiary, as well as fines and restitution.
Aside from hiring an experienced criminal lawyer, the best way you can prepare for your criminal case in Edison is to educate yourself about criminal law and procedure. For more helpful information, spend some time in FindLaw's Criminal Law section in Learn About the Law.