If you've been arrested in New Jersey and charged with crimes related to domestic violence, you may be feeling a great deal of apprehension—especially if this is your first offense. You may be asking yourself: What is going to happen to me? To my family? To my job? Will I go to jail? Will I be separated from my kids? The process for domestic violence trials in New Jersey can feel daunting and intimidating at best. 

The first thing to remember is that no matter how the process makes you feel, the law says you are innocent until proven guilty. There are many steps to the criminal trial process in NJ for just this reason—to provide multiple opportunities to ensure defendants' rights are protected and that they are given a fair chance to defend themselves against the charges. While there is a stigma sometimes associated with domestic violence, the protections given to you under the law still apply whether your charges are related to domestic violence or some other context. 

Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in New Jersey 

The second thing you should know is that despite the promise of a fair trial, it's still essential to have a skilled domestic violence defense attorney in your corner to make sure your rights are protected. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience representing domestic violence defendants in New Jersey. If you've been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, call 888-535-3686 for help now. 

The Criminal Trial Process in PA for Domestic Violence Crimes 

The more you understand how criminal trials work in New Jersey, the less anxious you may become about what's ahead. SoSo, let's discuss the steps involved if you are accused of domestic violence. 


Nearly every criminal trial process begins with an arrest—but it's important to understand that not every arrest results in criminal charges. In New Jersey, law enforcement is required to make an arrest when they respond to a domestic violence call if they see evidence of injury or probable cause. The police can only hold you for 48 hours without charges being filed. If there seems to be scant evidence that a crime occurred, you may be released at this point without further incident. IMPORTANT: Do not speak to the police about what happened without an attorney present. Regardless of your guilt or innocence, anything you say to the police can be used against you if your case goes to trial. 

First Appearance 

If you are formally charged with a crime, the first step is to attend a first appearance, which is held in municipal court for disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors) and Superior Court for indictable offenses (felonies). The purpose of this hearing is for the judge to read the charges against you, inform you of your right to counsel, and set an appropriate bail. If you're not considered a risk or threat, the judge may release you on your own recognizance; otherwise, you may be asked to post a cash bail or bail bond for your release. You will not enter a plea at this time. 

Pre-Indictment Procedures 

The biggest question after your first appearance is whether to charge your domestic violence as a disorderly persons offense or an indictable offense. The answer will greatly impact how your case moves forward. Indictable offenses typically move toward a jury trial. In New Jersey, disorderly persons offenses aren't technically treated as crimes, so if you're charged with a disorderly persons offense, you won't face a jury trial—instead, your case will be decided by a municipal court judge.  

If your charges potentially qualify as indictable offenses, several things happen after your first appearance: 

  • The prosecution reviews police reports and evidence to determine whether your case warrants an indictment. 
  • You may be subjected to a substance abuse evaluation to determine whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the offense and whether mandatory treatment is in order. 
  • The prosecutor or your attorney may recommend a plea bargain in which you plead guilty to a lesser offense to avoid a more serious penalty. 
  • Your case may be evaluated to see if you are eligible for a Pre-Trial Intervention program (PTI) which could help you avoid a criminal conviction upon completion. 

If the prosecution decides to pursue an indictable offense against you during this time, your case may be sent to a grand jury; otherwise, they may downgrade your charge to a disorderly persons offense and refer the case back to municipal court. 

Grand Jury 

If the prosecution wants to treat your domestic violence action as an indictable offense, they will send your case to a grand jury of 23 citizens. The grand jury's job is NOT to determine your guilt or innocence but to weigh the evidence to decide whether to indict you for the crime. If they opt not to indict, your case will either be dropped, or the grand jury may reduce your charge to a disorderly persons offense. 

Formal Arraignment 

If the grand jury hands down an indictment, you'll appear in Superior Court within 14 days of the indictment to hear the charge against you and enter a plea. If you plead "guilty" or "no contest," the case moves to the sentencing phase. If you plead "not guilty," trial preparations will move forward. 

Pre-Trial Conference 

A pre-trial conference is a status meeting between the prosecution, your attorney, and the presiding judge to discuss the path forward for your trial. You may not need to be present for this meeting. The pre-trial conference includes such details as filing pre-trial motions, setting dates/terms for jury selection, etc. If you have agreed to a plea bargain, this will be presented to the judge at this time for approval to avoid a trial. 

The Trial Itself 

Your trial will look very different depending on the type of charge. 

  • FOR INDICTABLE OFFENSES: Your trial takes place in front of a jury at Superior Court. The prosecutor presents their case against you, and your attorney cross-examines witnesses and works to poke holes in the prosecution's evidence. Your attorney then presents your case, and the prosecutor cross-examines. After both sides have rested, the jury deliberates and renders a verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty." 
  • IF YOU ARE FACING A DISORDERLY PERSONS OFFENSE: Your trial takes place in front of a judge at municipal court, with both sides presenting evidence. The judge determines whether or not to convict you based on the evidence presented. 


If you are found guilty at trial (or if you plead guilty as part of a plea bargain), the sentencing phase will again look different depending on the type of charge: 

  • FOR INDICTABLE OFFENSES: Sentencing takes place at a separate hearing after a pre-sentencing investigation.  
  • FOR DISORDERLY PERSONS OFFENSES: The municipal court judge typically pronounces a sentence immediately after deciding to convict. 

Your attorney can still negotiate for lenient sentencing at this point, such as probation and mandatory treatment. 

At every stage of the trial process, a good New Jersey domestic violence attorney can work to make sure your rights are protected and to negotiate for the best possible outcome for you. In many cases, a good attorney can help you avoid jail time and even get the charges dismissed. If you're facing criminal charges related to domestic violence, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your options. 

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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