The Criminal Justice Process – the Basics

The Criminal Justice Process – the Basics

A criminal case begins when a person is formally accused of a crime, which is the filing of a criminal complaint. This can occur as a result of an arrest at the scene of an alleged crime, the result of an ongoing investigation, or based on sworn statements made by citizens. In addition, a criminal case can be initiated by a grand jury issuing an indictment.

The Criminal Complaint

After a complaint is issued against a person, he or she may be arrested or issued a summons to appear in court on a particular date. At this first appearance, defendants are advised of their rights and the issue of bail is addressed.


Bail is money or property which is posted to assure that they will show in court in the future. In cases in which person has no criminal history and significant ties to their community, they are often released on their own recognizance, meaning that they do not need to pay but rather sign an affidavit certifying that they will appear in court.

Plea Bargains

If the prosecutor’s office decides to pursue a case at this point, the next step is often the defendant’s lawyer and the prosecutor negotiating a plea bargain, which is an arrangement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in return for a reduced sentence. In certain cases, the offense of which the defendant is accused downgraded or dismissed at the conclusion of the terms of probation.


At this point, the defendant will attend a formal arraignment, at which he or she can plead guilty, not guilty, accept a plea bargain, or request admittance into a Pretrial Intervention Program. If the defendant pleads guilty, the court will order a presentence investigation in order to help the judge determine an appropriate sentence in light of a defendant’s particular circumstances.


If a defendant pleads not guilty, the case will then proceed to trial. At trial, the prosecution will present evidence of the defendant’s guilt and the defendant will have the opportunity to raise any applicable defenses are cast doubt upon the prosecution’s case. At the conclusion of the case, the judge or jury will find the defendant either guilty or not guilty, unless the jury is unable to reach a verdict or the judge declares a mistrial.

Call 973-732-1490 today to schedule a free consultation.

The information above provides only a broad outline of some of the steps that may be involved in your case as as it winds its way through the New Jersey courts. If you have been accused of a crime, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. To schedule a free case evaluation with a New Jersey lawyer, call our office today at 973-732-1490 or contact us online.

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