If you are arrested and charged with an indictable offense in New Jersey, your first brush with the judicial system will be in Central Judicial Processing Court, or CJP Court. The CJP Court determines whether your case goes to Municipal Court (better for a defendant), is scheduled for a Pre-Indictment Conference or is forwarded to the Grand Jury. At a CJP Court hearing, the prosecutor presents the initial evidence against the defendant, known as “initial discovery.” The CJP Court also determines whether the defendant may be released from custody and, if so, under what conditions. Central Judicial Processing Court is the first opportunity for a criminal defense attorney to try to get charges against the defendant downgraded or dismissed. You should not go to CJP Court without an experienced defense lawyer representing you.
What Happens During a Central Judicial Processing Hearing in New Jersey?
Defendants facing criminal charges in New Jersey make their first court appearance in Central Judicial Processing Court, which is typically in the county where they were charged. The defendant will be represented by a public defender or a private attorney. Issues discussed in CJP Court include:
- Charges. The CJP Court will advise the defendant of the specific formal charges filed against him or her and the potential penalties if convicted (for example, felony charges). The defendant will be required to respond to the charges and enter an initial plea of either not guilty or guilty.
- Detention hearing. The prosecutor may file a motion to detain the defendant at or before the defendant’s CJP Court appearance. How a judge rules on a detention motion dictates whether the defendant is released from jail while the case is pending or remains in custody until the charges are resolved. A defendant can only be detained while awaiting trial if a judge finds that no set of conditions would reasonably ensure that the defendant would appear in court and would not threaten public safety or obstruct the criminal justice process. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney may argue for detention or release.
If a defendant is held without bail, the judge must set a hearing within three to five days for the prosecution to present a witness and evidence to establish probable cause for the charges against the defendant. In this hearing, the defendant’s attorney may cross-examine the state’s witness.
- Pre-trial release. In most cases, the defendant will be released without having to post bail. Most defendants are granted Release on Own Recognizance (ROR), which is an affidavit certifying that he or she is aware of the charges and will appear in court to face them.
If bail is set, the defendant’s lawyer has the opportunity to argue for reduced bail and/or altered conditions of release.
- Disposition of case. The main function of the CJP Court is to screen cases and separate indictable cases, which are heard in New Jersey Superior Court, from cases that are more appropriately resolved in a lower court. The CJP Court judge may remand a case to the local Municipal Court, Family Court or Drug Court. Some counties have special Remand Courts set up to handle disorderly persons cases.
When making a recommendation to the judge, the prosecution will consider the nature of the offense, surrounding circumstances, quality of evidence and the defendant’s character and arrest/conviction history. If the defendant has an attorney, the defense attorney will have reviewed the case and the defendant’s background and have the opportunity to speak to the prosecutor on the defendant’s behalf.
Ultimately, the CJP Court judge will decide and rule that the case will be:
- Dismissed with charges dropped.
- Remanded to Municipal Court or another lower court with charges downgraded. The Municipal Courts in New Jersey hear minor criminal-type offenses (for example, simple assault and bad checks), as well as municipal ordinance offenses (such as dog barking or building code violations) and traffic and parking tickets.
- Scheduled for Pre-Indictment Conference. The goal of a pre-indictment conference is to resolve indictable offenses before prosecutors present those cases to a Grand Jury. At the conference, a prosecutor may offer the defendant an opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge. If you don’t have a criminal defense attorney representing you, then you will be at a disadvantage in dealing with the prosecutor.
- Marked for the Grand Jury. The grand jury considers evidence presented by the prosecutor and determines whether there is sufficient evidence to formally charge the defendant. The defendant and defense attorneys are not a part of grand jury proceedings; only the prosecutor presents evidence. If the grand jury votes to indict, the case is heard in the Criminal Division of Superior Court. If the grand jury fails to indict the defendant, the charges are dismissed.
What Types of Charges Get Scheduled for CJP?
According to the New Jersey Court Rules, all indictable criminal offenses, which include all first degree charges, second degree charges, third degree charges, and fourth degree charges, are to be presented initially in the Central Judicial Processing Court (CJP Court).
- First degree crimes include homicide, rape, kidnapping, maintaining a drug manufacturing facility
- Second degree crimes include sexual assault, aggravated arson, robbery, drug distribution
- Third degree crimes include arson, drug crimes (unlawful possession of controlled substances), burglary, some driving under the influence (DUI) offenses
- Fourth degree crimes include criminal trespassing, stalking, shoplifting, forgery, some drug possession charges, some DUI charges, fraud crimes, credit card crimes, etc.
Why You Need A Lawyer for Your CJP Hearing in NJ
A defendant’s appearance in Central Judicial Processing Court is their first opportunity to refute criminal charges that could lead to an indictment and a criminal trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney can explore every angle to have the charges dismissed or downgraded, including the opportunity to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain. CJP hearings are to take place within 48 hours of a defendant’s arrest, which means the prosecutor has had little time to gather facts and evidence. A defense attorney who, after speaking with the defendant, has a fuller picture of what led to the arrest and charges is at an advantage. This is the point at which a defense attorney is most likely to influence how the prosecutor sees the case and the defendant. New Jersey prosecutors know that Superior Court dockets are crowded. They are ready to downgrade charges and remand cases to lower courts when appropriate. A knowledgeable NJ defense attorney working for you at a CJP hearing can make a huge difference in how your case goes forward.
Contact Attorney Jason A. Volet Before Appearing in Central Judicial Processing Court
If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, contact The Law Office of Jason A. Volet at your first opportunity. A criminal defense lawyer can investigate the charges prior to your Central Judicial Processing Court appearance and gather evidence that challenges the prosecution’s case against you. Contact an experienced New Jersey indictable offense lawyer from the Law Office of Jason A. Volet at 732-491-8477 or online today.