If you or someone you loved is dealing with a criminal case in Hackensack, you are likely feeling a lot of uncertainty. If you're sitting in the Bergen County Jail, you might be wondering when you are getting out and how to make bail.
If you're out of custody, you're probably wondering which Bergen County Courthouse you'll be going to or how your arraignment is going to play out.
Since arrests occur in so many different situations, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen. This article provides general information about what to expect in a Hackensack misdemeanor or felony criminal case.
New Jersey Crime Lingo
New Jersey law, unlike other states, breaks down criminal offenses into "Disorderly Persons Offenses" and "Indictable Crimes." In other states those crimes are known as "Misdemeanors" and "Felonies."
Misdemeanors/Disorderly Persons Offenses
To make things a little more confusing, New Jersey breaks misdemeanors down even further into two types of "Disorderly Persons" offenses. The first level of a Disorderly Persons offense is simply called a "Disorderly Persons Offense" or a "DP." The second level of Disorderly Persons offense is called a "Petty Disorderly Persons Offense" or a "Petty DP."
If you've committed a misdemeanor/disorderly persons offense such as an assault and/or battery, disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated (DWI), trespassing, domestic violence or shoplifting, you'll be charged in the Municipal Court.
Misdemeanors are less serious criminal offenses that typically result in probation, community service, fines not usually exceeding $1,000, and short jail sentence not to exceed six months in county jail. Generally, a judge, not a jury, resolves these cases.
However, you should take these charges seriously. A conviction can have a negative effect on upon your future employment opportunities, credit, and immigration status.
More serious offenses are known as "indictable offenses," or what other states call felonies. These crimes are typically punishable by no less than one year in a state prison, huge fines, probation, lifetime registration as an offender (depending on the crime), and even a lifetime prison sentence in certain cases.
Hackensack felony crimes include murder, rape, terrorist acts, grand theft, arson, kidnapping, burglary, major drug crimes, and most types of white-collar crimes, sex crimes, and violent crimes.
Here is the path a typical Hackensack indictable offense will take. Let's start with bail.
After your arrest, there's two ways you can leave jail-- you'll either be released on your own recognizance or have to post bail. Bail is money that you have to pay to the courts in order to be released from jail pending trial. You usually have to put up 10% of the total amount of bail the judge sets in your case in order to get out.
If you have to post bail or a bond, either the arresting agency (the Hackensack Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, or the Bergen County Sheriff's Office) will tell you what amount of bail has been set or you will be told once you are taken to the county jail.
First Court Appearance
If you can't make bail, you'll be brought before a judge either in person or via video court sometimes known as CJP (Criminal Judicial Processing) where a public defender or hired Hackensack criminal attorney, will acknowledge the charges on the record in open court, will enter a plea of "not guilty" on your behalf and will then argue for a lower bail.
The prosecutor will likely present your case to a grand jury. This method is used to establish the existence of probable cause. A grand jury of 23 New Jersey residents will hear only the arguments and witnesses for the prosecutor. You and your defense attorney aren't permitted to be present.
Grand Jury proceedings are considered closed or "secret" so that an accused person's reputation is not tarnished and witnesses may testify candidly. If a Grand Jury finds there is not sufficient evidence, it will "No Bill" the charges, which are generally at that time dismissed. However, if it does find sufficient evidence, it will issue an indictment, which the defendant will then be arraigned on shortly thereafter.
If the Grand Jury issued an indictment, your case will have a formal arraignment within 50 days. This again, is where the judge will inform you of the charges against you and review bail. Next, your case will be set for a status conference.
Status conferences are held throughout the legal process. These meetings allow the defense attorney to negotiate with the prosecutor about the status or outcome of the case. Depending on the complexity of the case and the nature of the charges there could be anywhere from one to multiple status conferences before a resolution is reached. It is during this stage of the criminal process that both the defense and the state file any pre-trial motions in the case.
In some instances, you may be able to enter into a plea bargain. If you do enter into an agreement, you'll be asked to give up your right to have a jury trial. You will then enter a plea of guilty or no contest to at least one of the charges. Your case will be referred to the probation department for a "presentence report," and continued for sentencing.
Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI)
As an alternative to prosecution, your lawyer can help you apply for the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). It's a program designed to rehabilitate first-time offenders and offer them an opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution.
If you've been charged with an indictable offense in New Jersey, you can apply for PT I, but note it's only available in Superior Court cases.
If you are accepted, you will be placed on a period of probation from one to three years and the judge will sign an Order of Suspension that keeps your charges pending during the probationary period. If you keep your nose clean and complete the program, a conviction won't go on your record.
If you are charged with a crime having a criminal attorney on your side gives you a much better chance of receiving a lower penalty. You may wish to consider speaking to a Hackensack criminal defense attorney about your case and your options.