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How Does a Criminal Case Go Through the Criminal Justice System?

criminal defense lawyer

Facing criminal charges can be very overwhelming and stressful. In addition to the arrest and time spent in jail, you might wonder what criminal charges you face, as well as what you can expect the process to be like. You likely also have a lot of questions regarding court dates and what you need to do to prepare for your criminal case.

What to Expect Following Criminal Charges

Understanding what to expect following criminal charges can help you prepare for your case. It can also help you understand when you can expect certain court dates and processes to occur.

The criminal justice system is made of the following parts:


During the investigation, the appropriate law enforcement agency will compile evidence or details regarding the case. With the possibility of criminal charges, the investigation will often include:

  • DNA or blood samples
  • Evaluating video or photograph evidence
  • Talking with witnesses
  • Collecting physical evidence from the scene of the crime

An investigation is important when determining whether criminal charges should be pursued against the individual. What is found during investigation will dictate where charges are pushed.


If the law enforcement agency or investigator secures enough criminal evidence, then they might make an arrest. An arrest requires probable cause or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.


Once all of the evidence is compiled, and an arrest is made, the court will begin the process of criminal charging. This process depends on the severity of the charges. For example, felony charges will require that the evidence is presented in front of a grand jury. These are the charges that the individual will defend.


Following the arrest, the individual will be required to appear in front of a judge. This process should occur within 48-hours of being arrested. During an arraignment, defendants have the opportunity to learn more about the charges they are dealing with and what their rights are during the process. Upcoming court dates will also be scheduled during the arraignment.


The discovery gives both sides the opportunity to learn more about the case. This includes the chance to evaluate evidence that the other side has compiled.

Plea Bargaining

Many cases are settled with a plea bargain. A plea bargain is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor to avoid a trial. Trails can be timely and expensive for everyone involved, so the prosecution may offer a reduction in charges in return for a no contest or guilty plea. Pleaing not-guilty will mean that you do not agree with the offered bargain.

Preliminary Hearing

If you do not come to an agreement with the prosecution, then a preliminary hearing will follow the plea bargaining. A preliminary hearing is a pre-trial, in which the point is to convince the judge that there is enough evidence present to take the case to trial. The judge may request that the case be dropped or they may schedule a trial date.


Some individuals will choose to go to trial. This includes defending your case in front of a grand jury. It is also possible to waive juror rights and let a judge decide on the case instead. During the trial, both sides will present the evidence that they have gathered. They will argue why they think the defendant is guilty or not-guilt.


Following all evidence, the jury, or judge, will sentence the defendant. There are limits on punishments and the jury will need to be within these state limits. Sentencing will include details around the expected jail time and fines. The judge can change jail requirements in lieu of probation or drug and alcohol classes.


If the defendant does not agree with the charges, then they might file an appeal. An appeal requests that a higher court review the case. An appeal is not always available if the defendant makes a plea bargain and pleas no contest or guilty. In return for the reduction in charges, they are often required to sign off on their appeal rights.

If you are facing criminal charges, it is always a good idea to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer. Your criminal defense lawyer will not only help you navigate the criminal justice process, but will also ensure that your rights are protected. Your lawyer can help you evaluate your plea offering and determine whether it makes sense to go to trial.

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

Were you arrested or charged with criminal charges 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 with criminal charges in Union County, Essex County, Morris County, Middlesex 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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