When an individual becomes involved in the criminal justice system it can be one of the most traumatic events in one’s life. A criminal charge not only affects those whom are accused of committing a crime, but affects families and loved ones alike. In New Jersey, the criminal process typically begins at the complaint stage. A criminal complaint is a document that sets forth the crimes for which one is being charged. For a criminal complaint to be valid, the arresting officer must provide a sworn statement as to the facts that gave rise to the charges. These facts must provide probable cause for the charges, hence why the statement is commonly referred to as an “affidavit of probable cause.” After the officer drafts an affidavit of probable cause he must then present said affidavit to a judge who will determine whether probable cause exists to bring the charges against the accused. If the judge determines that probable cause exists, he or she will then sign the complaint. This formalizes the charges.
Next, the complaint will either be designated as a “summons” complaint or a “warrant” complaint depending on the severity of the charges. If it is a summons complaint, the accused will be released and given a date to appear in court. The court date could be in one of two places. If the face of the complaint sets forth disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors) it will likely direct the accused to appear in municipal court in the city where the offense is alleged to have committed. If the complaint contains indictable offenses (felonies) the individual will be directed to appear in Criminal Justice Reform Court (formerly known as CJP). CJP is held in the Superior Court of New Jersey, which retains jurisdiction over all indictable offenses. On the other hand, if the complaint is a warrant complaint the accused will remain in jail until the Prosecutor decides whether they are moving to detain the accused (keep him/her in jail) or send the case back to municipal court in which case the accused will be released. This leads to the next phase of the criminal process- detention hearings.
Since January 1, 2017, the State of New Jersey has adopted the Bail Reform System. Unlike the old system, Bail Reform does not permit the issuance of cash or bond bails. Instead, individuals accused of crimes have a rebuttable presumption of release for all charges except for first-degree indictable offenses. When an individual is arrested and sent to the county jail, they will be interviewed by an intake officer from pretrial services. The officer will make a determination based on a computerized risk assessment scale as to the accused’s risk of committing a new offense and risk of failure to appear in court. This is then scored on a risk assessment scale from one to five and is memorialized in what is referred to as the “PSA” or Preliminary Safety Assessment. The PSA will also consider other factors in deciding whether the accused is recommended for release. These factors include the age of the accused, criminal history, past failures to appear in court and the risk of new violent criminal activity. Depending on the factors, pre-trial will make a recommendation as to release and it will be considered by the judge presiding over the detention hearing.
Additionally, if an individual is accused of first-degree felonies they are no longer afforded the presumption of release. This is because these are the most serious group of charges in the state, e.g. Murder, Kidnapping, Aggravated Sexual Assault, and other crimes that will be explained further. The accused must instead rebut the presumption of detention for these offenses by showing that they will likely not be convicted at trial. This is determined under a preponderance standard, which is lower than the standard required to prove one’s guilt at trial. After the judge rules on detention, the accused will either be released, released with conditions or detained. Whatever the decision may be, the next step in the criminal process is Grand Jury.
When a case is presented to a Grand Jury, it consists of a group of jurors not unlike the jurors who will hear trials. The grand jurors are summoned to a secret proceeding that only involves the prosecutor and the prosecutor’s witnesses. The prosecutor will present evidence and the Grand Jury will then consider whether probable cause exists to return an indictment on the charges against the accused. If probable cause exists, then an indictment will be issued.
An indictment is formal charging document and it differs from a complaint in that it allows the case to move forward to trial. If an individual is indicted he will be given a date for an arraignment where the prosecutor will provide a formal reading of the charges and the individual will likely enter a plea of not guilty. A judge will then set a motion schedule, status conference schedule, and plea cutoff date. Plea cutoff is a hearing wherein the accused will decide if they want to accept the prosecutor’s plea offer or proceed to trial. If the accused does not wish to accept the prosecutor’s plea offer, the accused will then proceed to trial.
At trial, the State will have prove each and every element of every offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof in our legal system. The jury will then decide whether the prosecutor has proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt and return with a verdict of guilty, not guilty, or no verdict at all if the jurors are unable to agree on the verdict. This is commonly known as a mistrial. As you can see, this very brief synopsis of the criminal process is loaded with nuances and unique issues that require the attention of a skilled attorney to ensure your rights are protected. With nearly a decade of experience in handling criminal matters as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, Georgina G. Pallitto will tirelessly fight to protect your rights.
Violent crimes have a great range with regard to penalties. An individual can be charged with Simple Assault, Aggravated Assault, Manslaughter, Aggravated Manslaughter and/or Murder. These charges range from maximum penalties of six months in the county jail to life in prison. Moreover, certain violent offenses are subject to the No Early Release Act (NERA). This statute was passed by the legislature to raise the term of incarceration one must serve for certain violent offenses. In many cases individuals will have to serve 85% of their prison term before being released if it is a second or first degree crime of violence. In hiring a defense attorney, one should ask how experienced the attorney is in this field. At Pallitto Law, Georgina G. Pallitto has prosecuted and defended hundreds of violent crimes from the complaint stage to trial and has consistently achieved successful results on behalf of her clients.
Sadly, the addiction rate in the United States has risen to an all-time high. Certain drug offenses will allow an individual to serve out their sentence on probation, special probation or in drug treatment facilities. This may include what is commonly referred to as Drug Court, a program designed to help drug addicts deal with their addiction positively rather than in prison. However, certain drug offenses subject individuals to mandatory prison terms based on the individual’s prior criminal history. This requires a more aggressive approach to minimize the potential penalties. Whatever the case may be, in crisis it is important to have an effective advocate who can construct positive solutions for clients. This has been the hallmark of Pallitto Law’s reputation in the legal community.
New Jersey is one of the strictest states in the county with regard to firearms. If you have been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm or possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose you may be subject to severe penalties ranging from probation to ten years in prison. This is due to the Grave’s Act, which sets certain mandatory minimum prison terms that must be served before an individual is released on parole. As a former prosecutor, Georgina G. Pallitto knows the ins and outs of law enforcement tactics in the prosecution of firearms offenses. This provides Pallitto Law with an edge in deconstructing cases so that clients receive the best possible outcome.
Sex Crimes, Megan’s Law, Official Misconduct, Eluding, Burglary and Theft, Shoplifting, Terroristic Threats, Harassment, Violations of Probation/Parole.