Do You Always Go to Court for Criminal Charges in New York & New Jersey?

The short answer to this question is “No”, but there are specifics that are important to know. Criminal charges are serious and can drastically change the accused person’s life. It’s important to consider what options there are to settling a case in lieu of going to court. 

What Actions Result in Criminal Charges in New York & New Jersey? 

It can sometimes be hard to tell what is a “crime,” and what is not. Doing something that is against the law is called an “offense,” and may be punishable by the state or another authority. Punishments for offenses include fines or even imprisonment. However, not every offense is considered a crime – even if someone goes to jail. 

New York 

In New York State there are four types of offenses, two are criminal and two are non-criminal. The two criminal offenses in New York are (1) misdemeanors (Class A, B, and Unclassified), and (2) felonies. Misdemeanors are the lowest level of crime, more serious than a violation, but not as serious as a felony.

The punishments for misdemeanors are determined by the severity of the crime, Class A misdemeanors result in no more than 1 year in jail. Class B misdemeanors result in a jail sentence not to exceed 3 months, and the punishment for most Unclassified misdemeanors is probation not more than 3 years. 

Common misdemeanor crimes in New York include: possession of controlled substances or drugs, petty theft, vandalism, perjury, prostitution, indecent exposure, basic assault, resisting arrest, public intoxication, and DUI. 

Felonies are the most serious types of criminal crimes and include things like: murder, rape, robbery, arson, and selling or possessing controlled substances. The punishment for being found guilty of a felony in New York is at least one year in prison, up to as long as life in prison. 

New Jersey 

The state of New Jersey does not use the words “misdemeanor” or “felony” to label crimes. What would be considered a misdemeanor in New York, is referred to as a “disorderly persons offense” in New Jersey. A “felony” in New York, is called an “indictable crime” or just a “crime” in New Jersey. 

Disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey include: simple assault, shoplifting under $200, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, lewdness, writing bad checks, and obstruction of justice. Conviction of a disorderly persons offense can result in a short jail term, or heavy fines. 

Indictable crimes include: murder, manslaughter, money laundering, sexual assault, kidnapping, and other heinous crimes. Indictable crimes in New Jersey are classified by degrees, with first-degree crimes being the most serious, and fourth-degree being the least serious. Penalties for first-degree indictable crimes can range from 10-20 years in prison to life imprisonment, fourth-degree indictable crimes result in up to 18 months in prison. 

The Criminal Charge Process–Do I Go to Court? 

Because of the varying severity of crimes, and what is considered a misdemeanor/disorderly persons offense or a felony/indictable crime, the options for reaching a consequence for the criminal action differ. 

New York

After an arrest has been made, the arresting officer will present the information about the crime to the district attorney’s office to decide if charges should be filed. If charges are filed, the accused will be arraigned. At arraignment, the accused may enter a plea of guilty (the court may impose a sentence immediately for guilty pleas) or not guilty. 

The court may postpone the case to a later date with conditions that the defendant must abide by, whether the defendant has entered a guilty or not guilty plea. For lesser crimes, this is an opportunity to discuss a few options with your attorney. 

Mediation–Both parties need to agree to mediation in order for it to occur. Less serious crimes like shoplifting, vandalism, and small claims court matters can be settled through mediation. Mediation involves a non-bias third party to listen to the two parties and help reach a solution. 

Plea Bargain–Plea bargaining is when your lawyer and the prosecutor talk about settling the case without having a trial. This can be done at any time during the case, from the arraignment up until a verdict in a trial. You can ask for a plea bargain, but the prosecutor can choose not to plea bargain with you.

Felony charges in New York are directed to a grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. If there is enough evidence, the accused is arraigned in criminal court, asked to submit a plea, and a trial date is set. 

New Jersey 

The process for criminal charges is similar in New Jersey. After an arrest has been made, the accused goes before a judge who will either set bail, set conditions for a pretrial release, or order pretrial detention. The defendant can then post bail (if necessary), or agree to the conditions of release. The prosecuting attorney will then decide if there is enough evidence to move forward with indictment. 

New Jersey offers substance abuse evaluations to those charged with criminal offenses as up to 70% of people charged with crimes are on drugs during the crime. This program helps judges determine appropriate community support systems for defendants released from jail. 

Some options for those with criminal charges in New Jersey include: 

Plea Bargain– In a plea agreement, the prosecutor might offer a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. In some cases, the charges are downgraded or dismissed. If a judge concludes that the plea bargain is too lenient, the judge can reject the plea.

MediationMediation may be used in non-violent offenses in New Jersey. Both parties need to agree to mediation with a third party mediator. 

Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI)-Pretrial Intervention is a diversionary program that permits certain defendants to avoid formal prosecution and conviction. Defendants enter a term of court supervised community living, often with counseling or other support.

Veterans Assistance Project–The project is geared toward identifying veterans who have come into contact with the courts and referring them for available services. The referral is voluntary.

These options in both New York and New Jersey may prevent you from going to court for a jury trial, however having a trusted, experienced attorney on your side is imperative. A competent lawyer can navigate the legal system for you and provide you with options for your defense. Facing criminal charges can be intimidating and confusing; finding a lawyer who knows the process will undoubtedly work in your favor. 

Do you or someone you know have criminal charges against them? Reach out to the Law Offices of Robert J. DeGroot for advice!