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What Do You Do if You Are On Trial For a Crime in New Jersey?

A person facing criminal charges in a New Jersey Court can expect to be prosecuted as provided by the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice and court rules. Anyone who is accused of a crime is awarded certain rights under the law, including the right to legal counsel. A criminal defense attorney may be hired by the defendant or appointed by the court. Once court proceedings for a criminal case commence, the defendant will be required to make the first appearance, enter a plea, and in some cases, post bail, among other ensuing legal requirements.

What Percentage of Criminal Cases go to Trial in New Jersey?

The criminal courts in New Jersey are the Municipal and Superior Courts. Municipal Courts handle less serious crimes, also known as disorderly person offenses. Indictable offenses, such as robbery, theft, and murder, are the more serious crimes and are under the Superior Court’s jurisdiction. However, there is no published report on the actual percentages of criminal cases that go to trial in the New Jersey courts.

It is important to note that not all criminal cases go to trial in New Jersey. A considerable number of cases are resolved by plea bargains. In a plea bargain, a defendant agrees to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence than the one that might have been imposed if the defendant was convicted at a trial. A defendant may enter a plea bargain prior to or during a trial.

When does a Criminal Defendant Have the Right to a Trial?

According to the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform laws, a criminal defendant has the constitutional right to a speedy and impartial trial. This trial is typically a jury trial, but it is possible for a defendant to waive the right to a jury trial and opt for a bench trial instead. However, before a case may be tried by a judge, the prosecutor and judge must approve the defendant’s waiver.

What are the Stages of a Criminal Trial in New Jersey?

The stages of a criminal jury trial in New Jersey are as follows:

  • Selection of jurors
  • Opening statements
  • Prosecution presents case (evidence and witnesses)
  • Defense cross-examines the prosecutor’s case
  • Defense presents case (evidence and witnesses)
  • Prosecution cross-examines the defense’s case
  • Closing arguments
  • Jury instructions
  • Jury’s verdict

How Long Does it take For a Case to Go to Trial in New Jersey?

Any person who has been arrested or issued a summons to appear in a Municipal or Superior court in New Jersey is scheduled for a first appearance hearing in the applicable court. Individuals who are issued a summons are required to appear in court on a set date or risk a warrant being issued for their arrests. Whereas parties arrested are scheduled for first appearances within 48 hours of imprisonment in any county jail. The courts implemented this procedure following the Criminal Justice Reform laws, effected on January 1, 2017. New Jersey statutes, however, do not specify a dedicated timeline for when a case may proceed to trial in the state. The length of time within which a defendant appears in court for the first time is not affected or expedited by the severity of an offense.

What Happens When a Court Case Goes to Trial in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, a complaint filed against a person may be brought before a petit jury or grand jury. A petit jury handles jury trials. In some cases, a defendant may waive the right to a grand jury in favor of a jury trial. When a complaint is determined by the Prosecutor’s office to be a matter for a grand jury, there is no trial involved, nor are there deliberations of a defendant’s guilt or innocence. Rather, the grand jury, consisting of 23 jurors, decides if sufficient evidence exists to bring criminal charges against an individual.

At the start of a jury trial, there is a juror selection: a small number of citizens selected from a group summoned by the Assignment Judge to give a guilty or not-guilty verdict on a criminal matter. In criminal cases, there are usually 12 jurors on the seat. However, two alternate jurors are selected in case a juror needs to be excused while the trial is ongoing, making the actual number of jurors selected in a criminal case to be 14. During the jury selection process, jurors may be chosen randomly by computer or by drawing names. The presiding judge informs the prospective jurors of the case and parties involved and questions them to ensure that they have no interest in the case and will act impartially. The questioning process is referred to as “Voir Dire.” Also, the prosecution and defense may excuse jurors without stating a reason. This is called a peremptory challenge. The number of jurors that may be excused with no grounds is limited under the law.

Once the selected jurors take an oath, the trial commences. The prosecution (State of New Jersey) and defense (defendant’s lawyer) make opening statements. Unlike the prosecution, the defense is not mandated to make an opening statement. An opening statement allows each side to inform the jury of their claim and what they will prove, through evidence, in the course of the trial.

After the opening statement, both parties are allowed to present their cases. This process is called a direct examination. The prosecution goes first, and the defense after. Both sides attempt to prove or refute a claim by oral or documentary evidence in presenting a case. Oral evidence consists of a witness’ testimony, while documentary evidence refers to any written material, item/object such as an audio recording, or exhibit. In cases of an absentee witness, the witness’ written or videotape testimony may be taken under oath before the trial in a deposition and admitted as evidence in the trial. The defendant has the option to testify. After a party (prosecution or defense) completes the direct examination, the other side may cross-examine the party’s case. Cross-examination involves the other side questioning the party’s witnesses to reveal discrepancies in the witness’ testimony.

After the direct and cross-examinations, the two parties present their closing arguments. Typically, the defense goes first.

Either or both parties may make a motion for a directed verdict. With this motion, one side infers that the other side did not present credible evidence to support their claim. If a judge agrees with the stated facts, the judge will issue the proper verdict. This may also occur in cases where legally, one party is entitled to a judgment. However, judges rarely grant motions for a directed verdict.

Following the closing arguments, and when no party moves for a directed verdict, the jury decides. Before this decision is made, the jury is instructed by the judge on the law regarding verdicts. Once the jury reaches a verdict, it is read to the court by the jury foreperson. For a verdict to be accepted by the court in a criminal case, it must be unanimous. After the jury’s verdict, sentencing is imposed by the judge. If the jury cannot agree on a verdict, the judge announces a mistrial, and the case moves to a new trial with a different set of jurors.

Can you be Put on Trial Twice for the Same Crime in New Jersey?

No, a criminal defendant cannot be tried twice for the same offense in a New Jersey court, as stated in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S Constitution and the state’s criminal justice laws. There are no exceptions to this law, also known as the Double Jeopardy Law. However, the law does not include civil or administrative proceedings and interstate crimes.

How Do I Lookup a Criminal Court Case in New Jersey?

Criminal case information for ongoing and concluded cases in the Superior Courts might be viewed using the PROMIS/Gavel Public Access platform. Interested persons may find Municipal Court case information with the Municipal Court Case Search (MCCS). Third-party sites such as may also be used to gain this information.

How to Access Electronic Court Records in New Jersey

To access electronic court records of the New Jersey Superior Courts, members of the public may visit public data terminals located in courthouses across the state. These terminals are free to use when searching and viewing criminal cases that were tried in the state. However, certain fees are assessed for parties who want to make copies of the records. Some court records are exempted from electronic access under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). These records include criminal investigatory records, victims’ records, juvenile records, identifying information of involved parties, probation records, and expunged cases. Electronic records may also be accessed through the PROMIS/Gavel Public Access platform.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Remove Public Court Records in New Jersey?

A public criminal record may be removed in New Jersey by expungement. The state’s expungement laws and eligibility criteria are detailed in N. J. S. A. 2C:52. Records that may be expunged include processing records, complaints, warrants, arrests, commitments, fingerprints, rap sheets, and docket records. The statute also outlines crimes that cannot be expunged, including criminal homicide, kidnapping, human trafficking, sexual assault (aggravated or not), criminal sexual contact (aggravated or not), robbery, perjury, terrorism, luring or enticing, false swearing, arson and related offenses, among others.

Anyone who fits the state’s criteria for expungement may petition the Superior Court in the county where the arrest, trial, or adjudication occurred. It is important to note that there are varying waiting periods for criminal defendants who want to apply for an expungement in a Superior Court. For example:

  • Individuals convicted of one crime (Waiting period: five years from the date of conviction)
  • Individuals convicted of one crime and no more than three disorderly persons offenses (5 years from date of most recent conviction)
  • Individuals with up to 5 disorderly persons offenses (5 years from date of most recent conviction)
  • Municipal ordinances (2 years from the date of conviction)
  • The entire record of arrest and convictions (10 years from the date of most recent conviction)
  • Certain records of young drug offenders (1 year from date of conviction)
  • Arrests not resulting in conviction (Immediately)

The procedure for filing an expungement in New Jersey is as follows:

  • Obtain criminal information from a court record: To file a petition, petitioners will be required to provide the following record information such as the arrest date; offense(s) and related statute; the actual indictment, summons, complaint number, warrant number, or docket number; disposition date, and the specific sentence. This information may be obtained by requesting copies of a record from the Superior Court where an arrest or prosecution took place.
  • Obtain a Criminal History Record: This applies to parties who do not have their arrest, disposition, or charge(s) histories. Criminal history records can be obtained from the New Jersey State Police.
  • Complete the Petition For Expungement (Form A), Order for Hearing (Form B), and Expungement Order (Form C): Petitioners must make three copies of each document. 2 copies and the original, along with an attached Cover Letter (Form D), will be filed at a Superior Court located in the county where the arrest or prosecution took place. The third copies are to be kept by the petitioner.
  • File the forms: The filing fee is $52.50. Fees are payable by money order or certified check made out to the Treasurer, State of New Jersey. All necessary documents are to be filed along with two large self-addressed stamped envelopes, which will be used to send filed copies back to the petitioner. Filings can be done by mailing the documents to the court or hand-delivering the documents in person.
  • Deliver filed copies: A copy of the Petition for Expungement, Order for Hearing, and Expungement Order will be marked “filed”, given a docket number, and mailed back to the petitioner. A minimum of 7 copies should be made of these documents, and sent to the following government agencies:
    • The Attorney General of New Jersey.
    • The Superintendent of State Police, Expungement Unit.
    • The County Prosecutor.
    • The Clerk of the municipal court (if applicable)
    • The Chief of Police or the head of a police department in the county where the arrest or offense occurred
    • The chief law enforcement officer or state agency that took part in the arrest
    • The Warden or superintendent in the place of incarceration
    • The County Probation Division (if applicable)
    • The Division of Criminal Justice, Records and Identification Unit (if the case was handled by the State Grand Jury)
    • The County Family Division (if the case is a juvenile delinquency matter)

The petitioner may use the Cover Letter (Form E) when mailing the agencies

  • Proof of notice: Once the post office sends the certified mail receipt card, the petitioner is directed to contact the clerk in the Criminal Case Management Office to inquire if proof of notice needs to be submitted to the court before or during the hearing. For submissions done at the hearing, the petitioner may complete and submit a Proof of Notice (Form F), along with the green certified mail receipt card. For submissions required prior to a hearing, the petitioner may submit the aforementioned documents to the Criminal Case Management Office. If sending the documents by mail, it is advised to send by certified mail and request a return receipt
  • Attend the hearing: On the scheduled hearing date, petitioners must attend court. However, it is not a required condition in some counties. Upon arrival, petitioners are required to inform the court clerk of their presence
  • Deliver the Final Expungement Order: Once an expungement order is signed by a judge and stamped “filed” by the court, the petitioner is required to mail the order, by certified mail, and a return receipt requested, to the aforementioned government agencies, with the inclusion of the following agencies:
    • The Records Division in the place of incarceration
    • The Identification Bureau in the county of arrest or incarceration

Petitioners may use the Cover Letter (Form G) when mailing the agencies. It is advised to keep all mailing receipts and green cards as proof of receipt of the documents.

All applicable forms may be found on the New Jersey judiciary’s Forms Search Database.

  • Criminal Records
  • Arrests Records
  • Warrants
  • Driving Violations
  • Inmate Records
  • Felonies
  • Misdemeanors
  • Bankruptcies
  • Tax & Property Liens
  • Civil Judgements
  • Federal Dockets
  • Probate Records
  • Marriage Records
  • Divorce Records
  • Death Records
  • Property Records
  • Asset Records
  • Business Ownership
  • Professional Licenses
  • And More!