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Answers to the Top 5 Common Questions About the Criminal Justice System

If you have been arrested for the first time, you may be feeling scared and overwhelmed, unsure of what will happen to you or what the criminal justice process in New Jersey is life. If you have questions about your criminal case, you need to consult with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible; the criminal justice system can move very quickly, and you may have important decisions you need to make very soon and should understand your rights and options.

Below are some of the most common questions that people facing the criminal justice system in New Jersey for the first time often have.

Do I Need an Attorney?

Although you have a constitutional right to represent yourself against your criminal charges (unless you engage in actions to disrupt the court or the administration of justice), you should always have an attorney to defend you against criminal charges. Defendants who represent themselves may be afforded a little leeway from the court, but will still be expected to largely adhere to the rules and procedures of criminal courts, which you may not know. You also likely don’t have the experience to evaluate the strength of the prosecution’s case or the strength of your own case, or how to negotiate plea bargains, resulting in you accepting a less-than-favorable plea deal. If your case ends up going to trial, you may not have the experience or skills to effectively advocate your case to the jury.

What Are My Rights If I Have Been Arrested?

If you are placed under arrest for a crime in New Jersey, you have the following rights as a defendant in the criminal justice system:

  • The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures (police must either obtain a search warrant, or have probable cause to believe that exigent circumstances exist for a warrantless search)
  • The right to remain silent
  • The right speak to an attorney prior to answering questions from police, the right to have your attorney present during questioning, and the right to have your attorney present during court proceedings
  • The right to have an attorney appointed to you free-of-charge if you cannot afford or otherwise obtain a private attorney
  • The right to a trial by jury (except for certain minor offenses)
  • The right to confront and cross-examine the evidence and witnesses presented against you
  • The right to decline to testify or to offer evidence or information that might tend to incriminate you

What Happens at the First Court Appearance?

At your first court appearance, the trial judge will formally advise you as to the charges against you; you may ask questions about your charges, but your first hearing is not an opportunity to contest the validity of your charges. You will also be asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty; if you plead guilty, the trial judge may sentence you at that same hearing. The trial judge will also explain your basic rights, including your right to an attorney. If you are not already represented by a lawyer, the trial judge may ask whether you intend to hire an attorney or if you need one appointed to you.

Will I Have to Go to Trial?

If you choose to maintain your innocence and do not accept a plea deal or otherwise plead guilty, your case will eventually go to trial. In some cases, it may be possible to have your charges dismissed before trial if you can show that the state lacks sufficient evidence to support probable cause to continue your prosecution (i.e., there is no evidence supporting one or more elements of a charge)

Read more: Can I Appeal A Criminal Conviction In New Jersey?

Can I Get My Case Dismissed If the Police Violated My Rights?

Many people believe that criminal cases get dismissed if the police violate a suspect’s rights, such as by failing to “read their rights” — namely, the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, known as Miranda rights. Police are only required to read a suspect his or her rights if the suspect is in custody and if police intend to question him or her. If police do violate your rights, the technical remedy is usually to exclude any evidence that police obtain from your statements. However, if this excluded evidence means the state cannot prove its case, a prosecutor may choose to dismiss the charges.

Contact an Experienced Summit Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Charges in New Jersey

Were you arrested or charged in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at Zegas Law have successfully represented clients charged in Somerset County, Bergen County, Essex County, Union County, and throughout New Jersey. Call (973) 379-1999 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 60 Morris Turnpike, Summit, NJ 07901.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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