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Everything You Need to Know About Criminal Defense in New Jersey

Criminal offenses may result in long prison terms and costly restitution fines. New Jersey criminal defense attorneys understand the legal process and can relieve the accused of the overwhelming worry most people experience when facing criminal charges.

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    About Criminal Defense

    Criminal Defense
    in New Jersey

    New Jersey has established procedures that guide the courts from the moment a complaint is filed to the point of sentencing.

    Although the accused and their families may not have comprehensive knowledge of the legal process, understanding how to prepare can reduce anxiety. The following discussion provides an overview of the criminal defense process, including the pre-trial stage, trial, and sentencing.

    What is Criminal Defense

    What is Criminal Defense in New Jersey?

    Defending Your Rights

    Whenever someone is accused of a crime in New Jersey, they have the right to defend themselves in court. Police officers who arrest suspects are not usually witnesses to the crimes they are accused of. It is important for the accused to have time to plead their case.

    Initiation of the Criminal Process

    The criminal process begins when someone lodges a complaint with the authorities about an offense or when a law enforcement officer witnesses a crime. The police arrest the suspect or summon them to appear before a judge.

    Principles of Justice

    Throughout the process, the court serves justice by adhering to three principles—judicial independence, open proceedings, and equal treatment. Equal treatment is essential. Whether a suspect is rich or poor, religious or not, should not influence the case’s outcome. Qualities such as language, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or physical abilities are considered protected statuses and should never affect the court’s ruling.

    Where are Criminal Cases Tried

    Where are Criminal Cases Tried in New Jersey?

    New Jersey has different courts to handle specific cases.

    For example, every municipality has its court. Unlike the lower courts—municipal and tax courts—that tackle particular subject matters, the superior court is the trial court of general jurisdiction.

    There is one superior court in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Criminal and family law cases are tried in these courts.

    New Jersey has a process for differentiating lighter offenses from more serious criminal charges.

    Classification of Criminal Offenses

    How Does New Jersey Classify Criminal Offenses?

    What most states call a "felony" is called an "indictable crime" in New Jersey. These are charges that require a formal trial to resolve. Less serious offenses, known as “misdemeanors” in other states, are termed “disorderly person's offenses”.  New Jersey classifies criminal offenses depending on their seriousness and the type of punishment they lead to if the defendant should be found guilty. All crimes fall into one of six levels, with levels one through four being serious offenses punishable by up to 20 years of incarceration.

    Level 1 (First Degree) Offenses

    These offenses are the most serious and are punishable by 10-20 years in prison. These crimes include:

    • Murder.
    • Manslaughter.
    • Drug distribution in large quantities.
    • Aggravated sexual assault.

    Level 2 (Second Degree) Offenses

    These indictable offenses result in incarceration terms of between 5-10 years. Crimes in this category include the following:

    • Robbery without a weapon.
    • Certain sexual assaults.
    • Drug distribution in smaller quantities.

    Level 3 (Third Degree) Offenses

    Offenders in this category also face indictment.
    If found guilty of a Level 3 Offense, an individual may serve a sentence of 1-5 years.
Their crimes may be one of the following:

    • Eluding police.
    • Drug charges.
    • Aggravated assault.
    • Child endangerment.

    Level 4 (Fourth Degree) Offenses

    Level 4 offenses are the least severe category of indictable crimes in New Jersey. The accused will face a formal trial to determine their innocence. Level 4 convicts may spend up to 18 months in prison

    • Forgery
    • Some shoplifting.
    • Stalking.

    Level 5 and 6 (Disorderly Person's) Offenses

    This class of crimes may not require indictment but is still considered wrongdoing in New Jersey. This category includes:

    • Harassment.
    • Disorderly conduct.
    • Possession of drug paraphernalia.
    • Petty theft.

    Tell us Your Story

    Criminal offenses may result in long prison terms and costly restitution fines. Contact us today to get help.

    Pre-Trial Stages

    How Can A Criminal Defense Attorney Assist During the Pre-Trial Stages?

    Preparing for a criminal trial in New Jersey involves several stages:

    When the police witness a crime or someone files a complaint, an investigation begins. The goal is to determine that someone has committed an offense worth addressing.

    Armed with an arrest warrant, law officers will arrest the suspect. Some individuals may surrender themselves willingly upon receiving a court summons.

    It is paramount that the police explain to the accused that they need to place them under arrest and begin the booking process. The accuser must officially press charges. This step helps to facilitate the speedy trial to which everyone has a right in New Jersey.

    Some suspects stay in detention awaiting trial, while others may pay a refundable bond to ‘buy’ their freedom. Others may be required to appear before the judge voluntarily.

    Before a verdict, an attorney can help first-time offenders request an alternative program to avoid conviction. Those who qualify may serve a probation period and a suspended sentence. Their charges would be dropped upon completion, and any confiscated documents released.

    If your attorney feels that your chances of an innocent verdict are slim, they may suggest you plead guilty in exchange for a shorter jail term. Discussing your options with a New Jersey criminal defense attorney may allow you to negotiate other ways of resolving the matter.

    New Jersey’s grand jury operates differently than in other states. Here, their job is to listen to the prosecutor present evidence to prove a need for indictment. Neither the suspect nor their attorney is present at a grand jury. If the jury decides that the prosecution has a valid case, the case goes to trial.Indictment by a grand jury must happen within 90 days of a charge.

    Arraignment occurs within 14 days of the grand jury indictment. It’s usually the first time a suspect appears before a judge. Every defendant should attend this hearing to avoid additional charges for missing the arraignment.

    The judge holds a pre-trial conference to determine whether plea bargains are being offered. This conference should take place within 60 days after the arraignment.


    You have a right to a bench or jury trial. The facts of the case can affect who determines the verdict, whether a judge or a jury. Preparing a criminal defense in New Jersey is a long process, which means that for anyone facing such circumstances, retaining a criminal defense attorney is a worthy investment.

    The bench typically sets the sentence terms and penalties. Any defendant can appeal a decision they feel is unfair.


    What to Do When Preparing a Criminal Defense in New Jersey

    With so much at stake, finding a skilled criminal defense attorney in New Jersey is crucial. The Law Office of Leon Matchin has a proven track record of aggressively fighting for its clients and protecting their rights. We always advise finding experienced legal counsel.

    As an additional resource, our website has informative vlog videos to help individuals and their families better understand the New Jersey criminal defense process.

    Go to Vlog Videos
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    Attorney Background

    I was born in 1976 and growing up I always knew I would be an attorney.

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    NJ Attorney Leon Matchin

    New Jersey Criminal Defense

    Practice Areas

    The Law Office of Leon Matchin, LLC is devoted to defending clients charged with traffic or criminal violations. Mr. Matchin represents clients in all varieties of traffic/criminal-related proceedings before New Jersey’s civil and criminal courts.


    Law Offices of Leon Matchin
    86 Washington Ave, Suite A
    Milltown, NJ 08850