If you've recently been arrested and charged with a crime in Salem County, NJ, you may easily feel overwhelmed with the uncertainty involved. Indeed, even for so-called minor offenses, criminal charges can disrupt your life and put your future in jeopardy. Your mind may be flooded with questions: How will these charges affect my family? My job? What happens if I am convicted? Could I go to jail? What will become of my children? What about my criminal record?
To help you process these concerns and figure out a path forward, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following important information about New Jersey criminal offenses and the Salem County courts. As a seasoned New Jersey criminal defense attorney, Joseph D. Lento has extensive knowledge of the New Jersey justice system and an excellent track record of success helping his clients.
The Ramifications of Criminal Charges in Salem County, NJ
From the moment you are arrested or charged with a crime, you need to be prepared for some changes and disruptions to your “normal” life and that of your family—at least temporarily. In recent years, New Jersey has all but eliminated bail requirements due to reforms. However, the courts may still certain requirements and restrictions on you as part of your “conditional release” while you await trial. Some examples of what you may expect:
- You may be required to remain employed (or actively seek employment if unemployed).
- You may be given a curfew.
- You may be required to check in periodically with local law enforcement.
- You may be placed in someone else's custody while awaiting trial (as opposed to staying in jail).
- You may not be permitted to consume alcohol.
- Your ability to travel out of state may be restricted.
- You may be hit with restraining orders, especially if your alleged crime involved hurting another person.
- If the court considers you a high “flight risk,” the judge may still require bail or even keep you in jail (“pre-trial detention”).
Granted, many people are not given these restrictions, and there's a chance you'll be released on your own recognizance on the promise of showing up for your trial date. However, you need to be aware of these possible restrictions and be prepared for them. A good defense attorney may be able to negotiate on your behalf to minimize these intrusive restrictions.
What Happens in the Event of Conviction
If you are acquitted of the charges, or if the charges are dismissed, your pre-trial restrictions will be lifted. But if you are convicted of a crime in New Jersey, you could be facing a whole different set of complications—not just with your sentencing, but with how the conviction affects your family and your life in general. Being convicted can result in any/all of the following:
- Fines, probation, community service, and/or jail time.
- Financial challenges. Going to jail or prison obviously affects your ability to make an income, and sometimes a conviction can cost you your job even if you don't go to jail.
- Restrictions on future employment. A criminal conviction on your record can make employers less eager to hire you. It may also limit your ability to work at certain types of jobs.
- Custody issues. In many cases, a criminal conviction can affect your right to custody of your children.
Misdemeanors and Felonies in New Jersey
The New Jersey criminal justice system differs from many states in that it does not use the terms “misdemeanor” and “felony.” In New Jersey, misdemeanor crimes are called disorderly persons offenses, and felonies are referred to as indictable offenses. Differences in names aside, these crimes are dealt with similarly to how they are treated in other states.
Disorderly Persons Offenses in New Jersey
In New Jersey, disorderly persons offenses are “minor” crimes with relatively mild penalties, similar to misdemeanors in other states. Examples of disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey include:
- Marijuana possession (less than 50 grams)
- Disorderly conduct
- Bad check writing
- Resisting arrest
- Simple assault
- Shoplifting (less than $200)
If you face disorderly persons charges in Salem County, NJ, you will appear in the Municipal Court serving your local area, whether the alleged offense occurred in Penns Grove, Bridgeton, Carney's Point, or elsewhere. A conviction for a disorderly persons offense can result in a maximum of $1000 in fines and/or six months in jail—but most convictions result in some combination of probation, community service, fines, and perhaps a short time in jail. Judges usually don't sentence first-time offenders to jail time for this type of offense, but it's not unheard-of. In many cases, a good New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can work to mitigate these penalties—and in some cases even get the charges dismissed.
Indictable Offenses in New Jersey
In New Jersey, felony-level crimes are called indictable offenses—largely because New Jersey is one of the few states that requires a grand jury indictment for all felony-level charges. If you have been charged with an indictable offense in Salem County, your case will go to trial at the Superior Court in Salem, NJ.
New Jersey categorizes indictable offenses as Fourth, Third, Second, or First Degree crimes, with penalties of increasing severity for each. While a Fourth-Degree offense may result in a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000, a First-Degree offense may result in life in prison and fines up to $200,000.
Examples of indictable offenses in New Jersey include:
- Marijuana possession (more than 50 grams)
- Drug distribution
- Aggravated assault
- Armed robbery
- Sexual assault/rape
Courts in Salem County, New Jersey
The New Jersey court system has a simple structure that makes it easy to determine which court will handle your case, depending on the type of charge. Let's discuss the courts in Salem County, and which court(s) may handle your particular case.
Municipal Courts in Salem County
As the lowest-tier courts in the New Jersey court system, the Municipal Courts are designed to handle minor offenses like traffic citations and parking violations, along with virtually all disorderly persons offenses. In addition, these courts host preliminary hearings for indictable offenses (felonies) to determine whether there is sufficient cause to send the case to trial. Municipal Courts host “bench trials,” meaning no jury is involved. Both sides appear to present their case to the presiding judge, who then makes a ruling.
There are currently eight Municipal Courts serving Salem County. If you are facing disorderly persons offenses, your case will likely be heard in one of these locations:
Carneys Point Municipal Court
303 Harding Highway, Carneys Point, NJ 08069
Cumberland Salem Regional Municipal Court
1325 Highway 77, Bridgeton, NJ 08302
Lower Alloways Creek and Elsinboro Municipal Court
501 Locust Island Road, PO Box 157, Hancocks Bridge, NJ 08038
Mid-Salem County Municipal Court
25 West Avenue, PO Box 286, Woodstown, NJ 08098
Penns Grove Municipal Court
1 State Street, Penns Grove, NJ 08069
Pennsville Township Municipal Court
90 North Broadway, Pennsville, NJ 08070
Phone: 856-678-3089 ext. 154
Pilesgrove Joint Municipal Court
1180 Route 40 East, Pilesgrove, NJ 08098
Salem City Municipal Court
129 West Broadway, Salem, NJ 08079
Superior Courts in Salem County
Next up the chain in the New Jersey court system are the Superior Courts. These courts handle jury trials for most civil cases as well as indictable offenses. If you are facing felony-level charges for alleged crimes committed in Salem County, your trial will be held at the Salem County Courthouse in Salem, NJ:
Salem County Superior Court
Salem County Courthouse
92 Market Street, Salem, NJ 08079
What if I Wish to Appeal?
If you choose to appeal a conviction, your attorney will take your case for review, first to the Appellate Division of Superior Court, and then, if applicable, to the New Jersey Supreme Court. These courts simply review the case for errors and to ensure due process was served; they do not host trials, juries, witness testimonies, or the introduction of new evidence. Appeals are not always feasible due to the added expense compared to the odds of reversal. Your attorney will be able to give you advice as to whether it's in your best interests to appeal your verdict.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Salem County, New Jersey
Given all that's at stake when facing criminal charges in New Jersey, you don't want to cut corners when it comes to your defense. Joseph D. Lento has years of successful experience defending clients in Salem County courtrooms and can help you prepare your best defense to achieve the best possible outcome. Call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 for more information.