No matter how minor the offense, being arrested and charged with a crime in Mercer County, NJ, is no laughing matter. Not only can an arrest be a huge disruption in your life, but a conviction can have lasting repercussions for you and your family.
If you've recently been arrested or sent a court summons, you may be experiencing a variety of emotions, including worry, anxiety, fear, apprehension for the future, etc. How do I defend against these charges? Do I need an attorney? How will this affect my family? My job? What happens to my kids if I go to jail?
To help you navigate this difficult time, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following information on what is at stake with your criminal charges, what the New Jersey court system is like, what to expect before the trial, where your trial will likely be held, and more. You'll also learn how an experienced New Jersey attorney can improve your situation in the courts and give you a better chance at a positive outcome.
What Happens When You're Charged with a Crime in Mercer County, NJ
Once you have been arrested and charged, you enter what is known as a pre-trial period—the time between when you're charged and when your trial happens. In times past, you usually had to post whatever bail was set in order to be released from jail, pending your trial. However, New Jersey recently reformed those laws, all but eliminating bail in the process.
That being said, your release from jail is conditional, and you still need to be prepared for some limitations on your normal routine between when you're arrested and when your case is resolved. These restrictions may include any of the following:
- You may be given a nightly curfew.
- You may be required to check in regularly with local law enforcement.
- You may face restrictions on when and where you can travel.
- You may be placed in the custody of a designated person.
- Your alcohol consumption may be restricted.
- You may be required to maintain an income (or actively seek employment if you are unemployed).
- If your alleged crime involved violence against a family member or loved one, you may be hit with a restraining order forbidding you to contact that person.
Some people are released on their own recognizance, meaning they will face none of these restrictions and can resume life as normal until it's time to go to trial. At the other end of the spectrum, someone deemed a “flight risk” may still be assigned bail or even kept in jail (“pre-trial detention”). Having a good attorney in your corner can go a long way toward mitigating the number of restrictions you face—and in some cases, a good attorney can even get the charges dismissed at this stage.
What Happens if You Are Convicted?
Being convicted of a crime in New Jersey carries with it a whole new set of issues that you may have to deal with for some time to come. You may need to be prepared for any or all of the following:
- Probation, fines, community service, and/or jail time.
- Financial difficulties. Being convicted of a crime can jeopardize your current job even if you don't go to jail. (Obviously, you also can't make an income when you're behind bars.) Either way, a conviction can hurt you and your family financially.
- Limitations on job/career prospects. Many employers do background checks, and a conviction on your record may make them reluctant to hire you. Being convicted for certain types of crimes can also restrict the types of jobs you're allowed to work.
- Custody problems. Depending on the circumstances, being convicted of a crime can have a negative effect on custody disputes, and in some cases, it can jeopardize your custody rights altogether.
Misdemeanors and Felonies in New Jersey
The New Jersey criminal justice system doesn't use the terms “misdemeanor” and “felony” like most states do. In this state, misdemeanor-level crimes are called disorderly persons offenses, and felonies are called indictable offenses. Let's explore the differences and give some examples.
Disorderly Persons Offenses in New Jersey
Disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey are the equivalent of misdemeanors in other states. They are considered “minor” crimes accompanied by lighter penalties. Some examples of disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey include:
- Resisting arrest
- Disorderly conduct
- Simple assault
- Shoplifting (small dollar amount)
- Writing bad checks
In Mercer County, NJ, disorderly persons offense cases are heard in the Municipal Court serving the area where the alleged crime occurred, whether it's Trenton, Pennington, Princeton, Hamilton Township, etc. The maximum sentences for disorderly persons offenses are fines up to $1000 and no more than six months in jail—although many people receive lesser sentences like probation and community service in place of jail. A good New Jersey criminal defense attorney can negotiate for reduced sentences in some cases, fight for your acquittal in others, and in still others, get the charges dismissed.
Indictable Offenses in New Jersey
Indictable offenses in New Jersey are equivalent to felonies in other states. They are called indictable offenses because New Jersey is one of a handful of states that requires a grand jury indictment for these types of crimes. In Mercer County, trials for indictable offenses are held at the Mercer County Superior Court in Trenton.
Examples of indictable offenses in New Jersey include the following:
- Armed robbery
- Aggravated assault
- Marijuana possession (more than 6 ounces)
- Drug distribution
- Sexual assault/rape
Indictable offenses break down further into Fourth, Third, Second, and First Degree offenses, with progressively severe sentencing for each. If you're convicted of a Fourth Degree offense, the maximum penalty is 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000. A First Degree offense conviction may get you up to life in prison and fines up to $200,000.
Courts in Mercer County, New Jersey
The court system in New Jersey is structured simply yet effectively. The type of courtroom you're likely to see depends on the type of crime for which you are charged. Let's take a closer look at the courts in Mercer County.
Municipal Courts in Mercer County
In the New Jersey court system, the Municipal Courts the lowest tier, handling most minor offenses (like traffic tickets) as well as disorderly persons offenses. They are also used for holding preliminary hearings for indictable offenses to determine whether the case has enough merit to proceed to a full trial. In Municipal Court, both sides present their case to the judge who makes a ruling and passes sentence for disorderly persons offenses. There are no jury trials in Municipal Court.
Mercer County is served by 12 Municipal Court locations as follows:
East Windsor Municipal Court
80 One Mile Road, East Windsor, NJ 08520
Ewing Township Municipal Court
2 Jake Garzio Drive, Ewing, NJ 08628
Hamilton Township Municipal Court
1270 Whitehorse Avenue, Hamilton, NJ 08619
Hightstown Municipal Court
1117 Route 130, Robbinsville, NJ 08691
Phone: 609-259-3522 ext. 2
Hopewell Borough Municipal Court
88 East Broad Street, Hopewell, NJ 08525
Hopewell Township Municipal Court
201 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville, NJ 08560
Lawrence Township Municipal Court
2207 Lawrenceville Road, PO Box 6006, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648
Pennington Municipal Court
30 North Main Street, Pennington, NJ 08534
Princeton Municipal Court
400 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08540
Robbinsville Township Municipal Court
1117 US Route 130, Robbinsville, NJ 08691
Trenton Municipal Court
225 North Clinton Avenue, Trenton, NJ 08609
West Windsor Municipal Court
271 Clarksville Road, West Windsor, NJ 08550
Superior Courts in Mercer County
Superior Courts are the main trial courts in the New Jersey court system. They hold jury trials for all indictable offenses, as well as many family law and civil matters. If you're charged with an indictable offense in Mercer County, your preliminary hearing will likely be held at the Municipal Court for your jurisdiction. If the case goes to trial, it will be heard at the Superior Court in Trenton, NJ.
The Mercer County Superior Court occupies two separate courthouses—one handling civil cases and one handling criminal cases. The criminal case location is:
Mercer County Superior Court
Mercer County Criminal Courthouse
400 South Warren Street, Trenton, NJ 08608
Appeals Court/NJ Supreme Court
If you receive an adverse decision in Municipal or Superior Court that you deem unjust, you have the right to appeal to the courts in New Jersey's appellate court system. Your attorney will first appeal your case to the Appellate Division of Superior Court, and then, if applicable, at the New Jersey Supreme Court. These courts are only for reviewing cases, not for juries, witnesses, or introducing new evidence. The judges will overturn the verdict or submit corrections only if they see a legitimate reason to do so.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Mercer County, New Jersey
Seeing how being convicted of a crime in Mercer County, NJ, can upend your life, your choice of a criminal defense attorney is critical. You need an attorney with extensive experience in these courts—someone who knows the ropes and can determine the best course of action to get you the best possible outcome. Joseph D. Lento has worked in the New Jersey court system for many years, and he has a long track record of success in defending his clients accused of crimes. Don't take unnecessary chances with your future. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for a consultation.