You've been arrested in "Bricktown" and aren't sure what's going to happen. The Essex County Prosecutor is charging you with a variety of felonies and misdemeanors. Your sister, who is a 2nd year law student over at Rutgers, looked up some information in her law books, but she wasn't much help. You're still confused. Where can you turn? You can start here. This article provides general information about what to expect, in general, if you or a loved one is arrested and charged in Newark.
Municipal Court and Misdemeanors
If you've committed a misdemeanor, such as a motor vehicle offense, DWI, speeding, driving on a suspended license, or leaving the scene of an accident, you'll be charged in Municipal Court. This court also handles certain disorderly person offenses, such as possession of a controlled dangerous substance, a simple assault, harassment, etc.
Misdemeanor crimes are less serious criminal offenses that typically result in probation, community service, fines not usually exceeding $1,000, and relatively short jail sentences no longer than one year.
More serious crimes are called felonies, and they are typically punishable by no less than one year in a state prison, large fines, probation, lifetime registration as an offender (depending on the nature of the crime), and even the death penalty in certain cases.
Newark 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.
A Newark felony case will usually follow the following path.
Getting arrested is typically the start of your case in Essex County. The arresting agency, probably the Newark Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, or the Essex County Sheriff's Department, will tell you what you are being charged with and will usually provide you with a copy of your complaint, showing you the charges and when the alleged incident occurred.
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 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
Couldn't make bail? Don't worry. You may not be dining on jail food too long. 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 Newark criminal attorney, will acknowledge the charges on the record in open court, will enter a plea, and can argue for a lower bail. Also, there are online resources available for family members or others trying to find an inmate.
Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury
The government typically brings criminal charges in one of two ways, by a preliminary hearing or by grand jury indictment. Both methods are used to establish the existence of probable cause, although in a grand jury indictment proceeding, the grand jury will hear only the arguments of, and witnesses for, the prosecutor. The defense attorney is not 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 dismissed at that time. However, if it does find sufficient evidence, it will issue an indictment, which the defendant will then be arraigned on shortly thereafter.
If you are "bound over for trial" at a preliminary hearing or if the grand jury issued an indictment, your case will have a formal arraignment. 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 shall file any pre-trial motions that are applicable to 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 "pre-sentence report," and continued for sentencing
If you go to trial, the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have the right to a jury trial where twelve people decide your guilt or innocence. Both the prosecutor and defense will present evidence. All twelve jurors must agree in order to convict or acquit. If the jury cannot agree, a "mistrial" will be declared and the case may be tried again before a different jury, settled by way of plea bargain, or even dismissed.
Remember, you can't be compelled to testify. If the jury finds you guilty, the judge will sentence you.
If you are charged with a crime, having a seasoned legal professional on your side may give you a better chance of receiving a better outcome for your case. You may wish to consider speaking to a Newark criminal defense attorney about your case and your options.