If you're facing domestic violence charges in New Jersey, you shouldn't try to navigate the criminal justice system alone. A conviction for a domestic violence charge can have serious penalties, and you need someone to protect your rights. Knowing what will happen during the domestic violence court process can help you prepare for the road ahead and retain an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney.
Domestic Violence Arrests in New Jersey
If the police are called to a domestic incident in New Jersey, the officers must arrest you and sign a criminal complaint if there are signs of an injury, you violated a no-contact order, you used a weapon, or there is a warrant in effect. The police may arrest you if they believe an act of domestic violence happened, but the mandatory arrest criteria don't apply.
If the police don't have probable cause, they must still inform the alleged victim that they can file a criminal complaint against you. If the alleged victim does so, the police must arrest you. If both of you have injuries, the police will try to determine who the aggressor was. In some cases, they may arrest both of you.
After the Arrest
Immediately after your arrest, the police will run your name through the system to see if you have any outstanding warrants. They will also be checking for any pending open matters and your criminal history. They will then take you to the police station, where you'll be fingerprinted and booked.
Warrant or Summons Complaint
Whether the police will hold you at this point depends on whether the police decide to issue a warrant or a summons for your criminal complaint. If you have no criminal history, the charges aren't an indictable offense, and it's a lower-level offense, the police may put your criminal matter on a summons complaint. If so, you'll be free to go and must report to court for your first appearance. At your first court appearance, the judge will advise you of your rights and the court programs available and let you know when to next appear in court.
For many domestic violence charges, the police will issue a warrant complaint. For a warrant complaint, the police will take you to the county jail, and you'll need to appear before a judge in person or via video within one to two days. This will begin your bail determination process.
New Jersey no longer has a cash bail system for most cases. Instead, after your arrest, pretrial services will enter your name and information into their database to obtain your criminal history. This will determine your “score” for bail, known as a Public Safety Assessment, and decide whether pretrial services recommend that you be held pending trial. Regardless of pretrial service's recommendations, the prosecutor can still ask that you be held until the court resolves your case.
At your first appearance, the court will advise you of your rights, including your right to counsel. After this point, the prosecutor will review your case and determine whether to pursue the charges. Your attorney may even be able to negotiate reduced charges at this point.
Grand Jury Indictment
If the prosecutor hasn't downgraded or dismissed your charges, they may present them to a grand jury seeking an indictment. If the grand jury finds there isn't sufficient evidence to indict, they'll issue a “no bill,” and the state will dismiss the charges.
If the grand jury indicts you, you'll have an arraignment within 14 days to formally notify you of the charges against you. You may plead guilty or not guilty. After reviewing the discovery provided to your attorney before the arraignment, your attorney may decide to enter negotiations with the prosecutor to reduce the charges, plead guilty to a lesser charge, or plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.
Before trial, you will have one or more pretrial status conferences. The court will review the parties' progress and resolve any discovery disputes or pretrial motions from your attorney.
You have a constitutional right to a jury trial if you proceed to trial. However, you may also elect to have a judge decide your case. The prosecutor will first present the state's case, including witnesses and evidence. Your attorney will have the opportunity to challenge any evidence and cross-examine witnesses, including your accuser. Your attorney will also have the chance to rebut the state's case by introducing witnesses and evidence in your defense. If you are found not guilty, you will be free to go. The prosecutor does not have a right to appeal a not guilty decision.
If the court or jury finds you guilty, the judge will use a presenting investigation report to help determine your sentence. This report will assess your family, medical, and criminal background, including any substance or alcohol abuse problems, your financial situation, and your suitability for probation. The judge will also consider any harm to the victim and the victim's family and the severity of the crime.
You and your attorney may also decide to appeal through post-conviction motions to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. The appeals court will review trial records and motions to determine whether the trial court handled all the legal issues properly at trial or whether the sentence is appropriate for the crime.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Convictions
If convicted of a domestic violence charge in New Jersey, you could face anywhere from probation to jail time. For a disorderly persons offense, similar to a misdemeanor, you could face:
- Jail time up to six months,
- Up to a $500 fine,
- Mandatory anger management or domestic violence classes, and
For an indictable offense, similar to a felony, you could face:
- Up to 18 months in prison for a fourth-degree offense,
- Three to five years in prison for a third-degree offense,
- Five to ten years in prison for a second-degree offense, and
- Up to 20 years in prison for a first-degree offense.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer
If you're facing a domestic violence charge, you urgently need legal help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping New Jersey defendants navigate domestic violence charges for years. Find out how they can help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to set up a consultation.