Criminal Justice Process: What Is This Madness?

Criminal Justice Process

An Overview of the Criminal Justice Process

The criminal justice process can be overwhelming, and, if you are the defendant, it can be downright frightening. Because each case is different and each defendant is different, the criminal justice process is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. But there are steps that are the same no matter what charges you may face. We’re going to review those now.

Why was I arrested?

A police officer observes what he believes to be a crime. That’s his probable cause to arrest you and initiate the criminal justice process. For example, you’re speeding, and the police pull you over. When they approach your car to check your credentials, they smell marijuana. That’s enough evidence for them to arrest you. Your charges could be drug possession, paraphernalia possession, and/or drug distribution. But the police don’t know the charges yet, because they have not done their investigation. They just have enough probable cause to arrest you.

Or think of this: Police receive an anonymous 911 call. The caller says she hears a noise from the neighboring apartment – yours. Police knock on your door; you open it, and they see your wife standing in the living room, crying and holding her head. They think you’ve slapped her, which is an act of domestic violence. This is all the evidence they need to arrest you and charge you with simple assault.

Regardless of why you are arrested, you are handcuffed, put in the patrol car, and taken to the police station. Once there, you are fingerprinted, and your mug shot is taken. If the charges involve a sex crime, you may also have a DNA swab taken.

Remember your rights

You have specific rights in the criminal justice process, two that you need to especially remember: The right to an attorney and the right to remain silent.

As soon as those handcuffs go on – whether you are on the sidewalk, in your car, or in your house – lawyer up! Tell the police you want a lawyer. Don’t try to tell your side of the story. That never works, and you could give law enforcement more ammunition to use against you. I can’t tell you how many clients have tried to talk their way out of charges, only to find everything they said written into a police report.

So in the initial stage of the criminal justice process, the first thing you should do is not talk to law enforcement – except to emphasize that you want a lawyer. Then get on the phone and call your attorney.

I’ve been arrested. What happens now?

The next step as you move through the criminal justice process is bail. Bail is applied based on different factors. Imagine two defendants – one who has a clean record and one who has been arrested multiple times. The first person, accused of simple assault, which is a misdemeanor in New Jersey, may be released at the police station. This is called “Released on your Own Recognizance” (ROR). This means that he has given his word that he will show up for court.

The second person who has been arrested multiple times will probably be detained. Judges view multiple arrests or repeat offenders as “dangers to society”.

What if I have a record?

The criminal justice process is different for a violent criminal with, say, 20 violent convictions who has been caught for the 21st time. The message to the judge is that this person is not learning his lesson, and there’s a strong likelihood he will not be released. He will be held in jail because he is perceived as a threat to society.

In the criminal justice process, courts look at you, your record, and the type of crime you have committed, and they make an assessment. The case gets more complicated when there are three or four criminal charges or if you are from out of state and are determined to be a flight risk.

What happens at my first court appearance?

A first court appearance will follow in the criminal justice process. This is an administrative function that is similar to your first day of school. Basically, you go before the judge and show that you are present and aware of your charges – just as you would go to class, meet your teachers, and get your schedule on the first day of school.

Will I need an attorney for this appearance?

If you do not have an attorney during your first court appearance, the judge will ask if you intend to hire one and will give you an opportunity to apply for a public defender or court-appointed attorney if you need to.

At this phase of the criminal justice process, the judge will also read off your charges and the consequences of each charge and ask you to enter a plea. “Not guilty” is the plea that should be entered 100 percent of the time. You will not be asked about facts concerning the case. You will appear before the judge, confirm your plan for an attorney, and enter your plea. It’s that simple.

What is an indictment?

The indictment phase of the criminal justice process can get complicated, but I am going to keep this information really simple. In Jersey, for example, there are two categories of criminal offenses: low-level misdemeanors and felonies. Low-level misdemeanors are things like simple assault. Felonies are serious offenses – murder, rape, drug distribution, and gun charges.

Felonies are not called ‘felonies’

In the New Jersey criminal justice system, felonies are called “indictable offenses.” An indictment is a constitutional safeguard, something that has been put into place to protect you in the criminal justice process.

Remember when we discussed that the police officer needed probable cause to arrest you? With the evidence he had, the officer felt that you either had already committed a crime or were about to commit one, so he arrested you. The indictment is the process where the grand jury listens to the evidence that was gathered against you. It’s the grand jury – not the police officer –  who makes a determination about probable cause.

That’s the cool thing about this part of the criminal justice process: The whole case was started with a police officer’s probable cause finding, followed by your arrest. Now the grand jury comes in. The grand jury is made up of random people in the community who listen to the evidence. If they find that there is sufficient probable cause and sufficient evidence that maybe you did commit this crime, they sign an indictment. The indictment formalizes the criminal justice process and moves the case toward trial.

What happens in post-indictment?

You’ve had your first court appearance, and you’ve been indicted. Now the criminal court process shifts into “discovery.” At this time, the prosecutor must give your defense attorney the evidence they have against you – all police reports, witness statements, surveillance videos, text messages, emails, pictures, etc.

What does my attorney do with this information?

An excellent defense attorney has not been wasting time. By this point, we have already been doing our own investigation before we receive anything from the prosecutor. Let’s say you were involved in a bar fight. By now, we will have already sent our own defense investigators to the bar. We will have interviewed the bartender, looked for witnesses, and asked for the surveillance video. When we get evidence we intend to use in your defense, such as video showing that you acted in self-defense, we provide that information to the prosecutor. Why do we do all of this? Because 90 percent of criminal cases end in a plea bargain.

So, what is a plea bargain?

A plea bargain is a way to avoid taking a case to trial and risking a guilty verdict. The prosecutor has the burden of proof to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They are the ones bringing the case. They made the arrest; they said they had probable cause. So our attitude is, “Okay, prove it.” 

We do not have to share our investigation unless we intend to use it. If we have surveillance video that shows you are not the guy, we would use that in a plea negotiation.

What if you can’t show that I am innocent?

Let’s say from our earlier example that the bar did not have a working camera or none of the witnesses remembered you. What if all we have is the prosecutor’s evidence?

This is when we go into plea negotiations. Picture this scenario: The prosecutor says that you were charged with second degree aggravated assault for punching the victim and breaking his jaw. I will reply: “I understand. But the victim was the aggressor, and my client was acting in self-defense. I can show that if we go to trial.” 

The prosecutor may agree and offer a lesser charge, maybe a fourth-degree charge. (Remember: In New Jersey, the first degree is worst and carries the most penalties.) I could then agree to talk with you about the plea bargain, provided you do not have to go to county jail or prison. If the prosecutor agrees to take this non-custodial deal, he may still require you to pay restitution, such as the victim’s hospital bill, which would be a reasonable offer.

And that’s how the plea negotiation works in the criminal justice process.

To trial, or not to trial?

Let’s say you have been presented with a lesser charge of fourth-degree felony. While it may be non-custodial, you will still have to pay restitution, and you will have a felony conviction on your record. That means you may not be able to get certain jobs, you cannot get into certain schools, and you may lose the job you have. You will have to wait for years until you get your criminal record expunged.

You can say, “Listen. I was acting in self-defense. I want to testify. I want to take the stand and explain.” The option is yours and we will be behind you 100 percent.

It’s about who has control

With a plea bargain, you have control over your destiny. As in the case we have discussed, that means you know you are not going to prison. But two things can happen in a trial: The jury can listen to all the evidence and acquit you, which means they say you are not guilty and you are home free, or the jury can be persuaded by the prosecutor and find you guilty. If that happens, the judge has no choice but to sentence you to a second-degree felony. Now you are looking at five to 10 years in prison. That’s something you have to think about; it’s a decision you have to make.

What’s a trial tax?

Remember, in the criminal justice process, each case is different, and, actually, each individual charge can be different. If you choose to go to trial, the prosecutor may bring more serious charges against you. This is called a “trial tax.” You will face all the charges that you have been accused of, and you may win on some and lose on others. You may win on all of them, or you may lose on all of them.

There are more options to consider

We’ve given an overview of the criminal justice process, but there are other options that should be considered. In New Jersey, probationary options are available. Instead of pleading guilty or going to trial and possibly being incarcerated, there are diversionary programs.

What is a diversion?

You are on the path of the criminal justice process, and you are either going to plead guilty or go to trial. A diversion lets you get off of that path.

At the superior court level, once you have been indicted, there are a couple of programs available. One is the pretrial intervention (PTI), which is for indictable offenses (felonies). Depending on your charges, you may qualify for probation if you have a clean record and have never had charges in the New Jersey criminal justice system.

Another option for indictable offenses is drug court, a special program for people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or both, who commit a crime while under the influence. That means their thinking, their judgment was impaired at the time of the crime. As a society, we have a greater interest in rehabilitating a person than punishing them, so drug court is another way to avoid going to trial or pleading guilty and going to prison.

Diversions for misdemeanors

In New Jersey, misdemeanors are called disorderly persons offenses and are heard in municipal court. Depending on what you are charged with, you may be eligible for a diversionary program or probation.

Drug-related offenses at the misdemeanor level can qualify for a conditional discharge. Non-drug related misdemeanors can qualify for conditional dismissal. Not all misdemeanors are eligible, however. For example, if you are charged for simple assault from a domestic violence situation, you are not eligible for conditional dismissal in the New Jersey criminal justice process.

So, can you get my charges dismissed?

This is the question I am asked by every client who walks through my door. The answer is, yes, it is possible, but it is not easy. Charges get dismissed all the time, but the unique facts of your case are taken into account.

For instance, if we question how a police officer got evidence in a felony drug case, we can file a motion to suppress. If the court agrees with us that your constitutional rights were violated during the criminal justice process, there is a very good chance the drug charges will get dismissed.

Another way to dismiss criminal charges is through the defense attorneys themselves. At the conclusion of our own investigation, we may find evidence that law enforcement and/or the prosecutor did not have. We can show that evidence during plea negotiations. If the evidence exonerates you or shows that it wasn’t you – maybe a case of mistaken identity – the charges may be dismissed.

The entire criminal justice process in a nutshell

That’s it. We have just reviewed the process of the criminal justice system. There’s an arrest … then bail … then your first day of court … then the indictment … then discovery … then plea bargaining … and then, if you so choose, a trial. Or, based on circumstances, you can qualify for diversionary options or could have your charges dismissed completely.

To maneuver through the criminal justice process, it is best to find a local attorney, one you can really get to know. If you have questions for me, call my number, even if you’re in another jurisdiction. I’m here to help

How We Can Help

Regardless of the criminal charges you are facing, we are here to defend & protect you. Whether you are facing a restraining order, drug charge, theft charge, or aggravated assault charge, we are here to help you. Even a DWI case can really complicate your life.

If we can’t get your charges dismissed, we can either get them downgraded or place you in a diversionary program. The point is, our criminal defense lawyers will fight tirelessly to get you the best result possible. Take advantage of our free consultation to see how we can help.

Our Experience

You or a loved one have been arrested. Understandably, you are terrified & have a lot of questions. You’ve heard about plea bargains & probation, but the process is overwhelming. You want a local attorney near you to represent you.

Mr. Peyrouton is from Ridgewood & handles all types of criminal matters in New Jersey The New Jersey Law Journal recently published one of his articles on the subject of criminal law.

Our Practice Areas

Below you will find some but not all of our practice areas. Of course, if you do not see your criminal charges listed, feel free to contact us for a free consultation. We will meet with you to discuss your case & to answer all of your legal concerns. Se habla español tambien!

Areas We Serve

Get Help With Your Case

How Do Your Free Consultations Work?

There are plenty of excellent Hackensack criminal lawyers in our area. Most, if not all of them, offer free, 20-minute, consultations. However, our free consultations do not have a time limit. You will never feel rushed.

The best way for us to help you is to patiently listen to your side of the story. Your version of events will serve as the basis for your legal defense. It is during these initial meetings that your memory of the event is fresh in your mind. Why we would rush you during such an important aspect of your case.

We understand that your choice of attorney could mean the difference between your freedom and spending years behind bars. 

When you hire an attorney, you are entering a long-term relationship. For this reason, it is important that you feel comfortable with the team of Hackensack criminal lawyers that will represent you.

What our clients say about us

Peyrouton Law
Based on 173 reviews
Geselle Linares
Geselle Linares
21:31 22 Jan 23
I just wanted to get on here and say how amazing Alan is. He is very friendly and professional. He took care of everything and thankfully I did not stress one bit. Every time I had a question he was sure to answer within a reasonable time. If anyone is thinking about hiring him do not hesitate to contact him or his team!
Rosales Karen
Rosales Karen
03:24 18 Dec 22
Exelente abogado merece más de 5 estrellas una persona seria humilde el abogado alan es bien educado habla español trata de lo mejor A sus clientes exelente persona 😄 ✌
Drew C
Drew C
22:39 15 Dec 22
Just want to express my gratitude for Alan and how he handled the case in a professional, transparent and timely manner. I was pulled over on a bs stop and was hit with multiple fines on top of a criminal offense and it was handled as smoothly as I could possibly ask for. Thank you again Alan.
21:21 13 Dec 22
This guy is down to earth friendly, easily works with you and is the best of the best when it comes to law. Alan really helped me out on a tough case and I couldn’t recommend anyone better.
Jonathan Rodriguez
Jonathan Rodriguez
15:16 05 Dec 22
Best lawyer in town very happy with the results, communication and pricing, Alan will fight for you to get the best results. After one year he never stop working in my case until he got what he wanted for me. 100% I will back if I ever need his help again.
Quashawn Ross
Quashawn Ross
16:15 25 Oct 22
I wanted to wholeheartedly thank you for your expertise and wisdom regarding my matter. You fount hope for me when I thought there wasn’t any. Thank you for your exceptional service and professionalism you displayed throughout my case and afterwards. I had to make sure I left you a thoughtful review, as it was well needed. Once again thanks from the heart. I’d recommend you a thousand times. No fabricated representation, just real results.
20:51 19 Sep 22
Absolutely Amazing Law Firm !! Very Thorough And And Doesn't Play Any Games .Thank You Again For all your help and Hard work Also Keeping my record Spotless !!!
Kayla Wilson-Raditch
Kayla Wilson-Raditch
19:45 24 Aug 22
Alan was amazing for my family member’s case. Highly recommended!
Jean-Carlo Delgado
Jean-Carlo Delgado
14:21 17 Aug 22
Excellent lawyer! Responds immediately to any questions asked. My case was dismissed and I was able to keep my job, couldn't have asked for a better lawyer.
Laurie Rivera
Laurie Rivera
17:35 02 Aug 22
Highly recommended! Got a family member that got in trouble and he was able to help him out.

A person extorts if he purposely threatens to:

a. Inflict bodily injury on or physically confine or restrain anyone or commit any other criminal offense;
b. Accuse anyone of an offense or cause charges of an offense to be instituted against any person;
c. Expose or publicize any secret or any asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to impair his credit or business repute;
d. Take or withhold action as an official, or cause an official to take or withhold action;
e. Bring about or continue a strike, boycott or other collective action, if the property is not demanded or received for the benefit of the group in whose interest the actor purports to act;
f. Testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another’s legal claim or defense; or
g. Inflict any other harm which would not substantially benefit the actor but which is calculated to materially harm another person.

***It is an affirmative defense to prosecution based on paragraphs b, c, d or f that the property obtained was honestly claimed as restitution or indemnification for harm done in the circumstances or as lawful compensation for property or services.

Reasonable Articulable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is a “search” standard that applies in criminal law.

When a police officer conducts a warrantless search, and does not have probable cause to justify the search, the courts look to see if the police had
a “reasonable & articulable suspicion” for the search.

A mere “hunch” is not enough.

In other words, a police officer has to provide an acceptable explanation for the search.

United States Constitution

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

NJSA - 2C:43-7.2.
Eligibility for parole;
persons convicted of certain violent crimes

a. A court imposing a sentence of incarceration for a crime of the first or second degree enumerated in subsection d. of this section shall fix a minimum term of 85% of the sentence imposed, during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole.

b. The minimum term required by subsection a. of this section shall be fixed as a part of every sentence of incarceration imposed upon every conviction of a crime enumerated in subsection d. of this section, whether the sentence of incarceration is determined pursuant to N.J.S.2C:43-6, N.J.S.2C:43-7, N.J.S.2C:11-3 or any other provision of law, and shall be calculated based upon the sentence of incarceration actually imposed. The provisions of subsection a. of this section shall not be construed or applied to reduce the time that must be served before eligibility for parole by an inmate sentenced to a mandatory minimum period of incarceration. Solely for the purpose of calculating the minimum term of parole ineligibility pursuant to subsection a. of this section, a sentence of life imprisonment shall be deemed to be 75 years.

c. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary and in addition to any other sentence imposed, a court imposing a minimum period of parole ineligibility of 85 percent of the sentence pursuant to this section shall also impose a five-year term of parole supervision if the defendant is being sentenced for a crime of the first degree, or a three-year term of parole supervision if the defendant is being sentenced for a crime of the second degree. The term of parole supervision shall commence upon the completion of the sentence of incarceration imposed by the court pursuant to subsection a. of this section unless the defendant is serving a sentence of incarceration for another crime at the time he completes the sentence of incarceration imposed pursuant to subsection a., in which case the term of parole supervision shall commence immediately upon the defendant’s release from incarceration. During the term of parole supervision the defendant shall remain in release status in the community in the legal custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and shall be supervised by the State Parole Board as if on parole and shall be subject to the provisions and conditions

Felony Degree

Prison & Fines



1st-degree felony charges in NJ are reserved for the most serious criminal offenses. Prison terms start at a minimum of 10 years in prison.


2nd-degree felony charges carry 5-10 yrs in prison.
These charges can often be “downgraded” to 3rd or 4th-degree crimes.


3rd-degree felony charges carry 3-5 years.
You have a good shot at PTI if you are charged with a 3rd-degree.


4th-degree felony charges carry up to 18 months in jail. These cases can get “remanded” to a lower court. In this way, you will be out of “felony” danger.

claim your free consultation

Yes, I need help with my case.