The Criminal Justice Process

Assistant Prosecutor: A lawyer employed by the county prosecutor's office to prosecute cases for the State of New Jersey.

Public Defender: A lawyer employed by the State of New Jersey to represent indigent defendants of a crime.

Complaint: Initial formal document charging a defendant with a crime.

First Appearance Hearing: Once a complaint is issued, defendants are either arrested for issued a summons or notice to appear in Superior Court on a first appearance. At the First Appearance, incarcerated defendants can be released subject to conditions set by the court or held without bail because the State is seeking to detain the defendant until trial. First Appearance hearings are held within 24 hours of arrest or issuance of a warrant complaint for incarcerated defendants.

Detention Hearing: Not all defendants are released at the First Appearance. Detention hearings are heard in front of a Superior Court Judge, generally held within three business days of the first appearance. The State can request pretrial detention for indictable crimes, and for any disorderly persons offenses that are domestic in nature. An assistant prosecutor will represent the State at the detention hearing, regardless of whether the charge is an indictable or a disorderly persons domestic.

Pre-Indictment Conference: This hearing is scheduled within 8 weeks from the time of the First Appearance. The hearing is an opportunity for the assistant prosecutor to discuss with the defense attorney potential pre-indictment case resolutions.

Grand Jury: A 23-person Jury that hears evidence presented by an assistant prosecutor to determine whether or not there is sufficient basis for a formal charge to be issued.

Post-Indictment Arraignment: This is the first appearance made by the defendant before a Superior Court Judge after indictment. The assistant prosecutor will advise the defendant of the indictment. The defendant, through his/her attorney will enter a guilty or not guilty plea. This hearing will be held 2 weeks after indictment.

Status Conferences: There are two status conference hearings, with the possible exception of a third conference at the Judge's discretion. The first status conference is called the Initial Case Disposition Conference; the second is called the Final Case Disposition Conference; the third, the Discretionary Case Disposition Conference. These hearings are public hearings where the defendant and his/her lawyer and an assistant prosecutor appear before a Superior Court judge.

Plea Negotiation: A process in which the assistant prosecutor and the defendant, through his/her attorney, attempt to reach a plea agreement in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to some or all of the charges. The first plea offer by the assistant prosecutor may be provided to the defense attorney as early as the Pre-Indictment Conference.

Petit Jury: A group of 12 citizens selected to hear evidence relating to the charges stated in the indictment.

Sentencing: The disposition/punishment phase of the criminal matter before a Superior Court judge. A sentence can include prison, probation, restitution, community service, mental health counseling, fines & penalties, or any combination of these. This is the phase where a victim has the opportunity to address the court with a Victim Sentencing Statement, which is a statement (written and/or oral) made by the victim describing how the crime has affected his/her life.

For more information, please call the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office Victim Assistance Unit at: 973-383-1570.