Criminal complaints may be filed by anyone. The majority of criminal complaints are signed by police officers. Although a citizen can sign a complaint, before signing a criminal complaint, a citizen should contact the police department where the offense occurred so the police can conduct an investigation, if necessary. This is especially true if the matter involved violence or the threat of violence. If a citizen wants to sign a criminal complaint, he or she should contact the Municipal Court Administrator in the town where the offense occurred. The Municipal Court Administrator will explain the procedures that must be followed.
If the complaint charges a disorderly persons offense only, contact the municipal court where you signed the complaint. If the complaint charges an indictable offense (crime), contact the Prosecutor's Office.
All complaints charging crimes are immediately referred to the Prosecutor's Office for review. Once received, the Prosecutor's Office reviews the complaint, obtains any police reports that were prepared concerning it and, where indicated, contacts the complainant/victim and/or investigating police officer for further information and comment. If the Prosecutor's Office determines that the complaint can be adequately dealt with by the local municipal court, the crime charged in the complaint will be amended to state a disorderly persons offense and the complaint will be returned to the municipal court for hearing.
Contact the Victim/Witness Unit of the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office at (973) 383-1570. In most cases, recovered valuables can be returned as soon as they are logged in and photographed by the police.
In New Jersey there are basically two types of criminal offenses: crimes and disorderly persons offenses. (In other states these two types of offenses are often referred to as "felonies" and "misdemeanors.") Crimes are punishable by more than six months in jail and are prosecuted by either the County Prosecutor's Office or the Attorney General's Office in the Superior Court, which in Sussex County is located in Sussex County Court House. In addition, those charged with committing crimes are entitled to have their matters reviewed by a grand jury and tried by a petit jury. Disorderly persons offenses are punishable by up to a maximum of six months in jail and are typically prosecuted either by a municipal prosecutor or citizen in a municipal court. Those charged with disorderly persons offenses are not entitled to either grand jury presentation or trial by jury.
The Federal and State Constitutions guarantee every individual charged with a crime the right to have his matter reviewed by an independent body called a grand jury. A person charged with a disorderly persons or motor vehicle offense does not have a right to have the case presented to a grand jury. The grand jury hears evidence regarding the criminal matter and determines if there is probable cause for the case to proceed further. If the grand jury finds that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed further, the person charged with the crime is "indicted".
Grand Jury proceedings are confidential. The grand jury meets in closed sessions and all evidence collected by them is kept secret unless and until a Superior Court Judge orders otherwise. The only individuals permitted in the room during a grand jury session are the grand jurors, the prosecutor, the witness and the court reporter. Neither a judge nor a defense attorney is present during the proceeding. Usually, the defendant does not testify at grand jury. The defendant is also not present during another witness' testimony. In Sussex County, there is one grand jury that sits twice monthly. Each grand jury is comprised of 23 grand jurors who are selected at random by a Superior Court Judge of the Sussex County Superior Court. The grand jurors serve for four months.
The Sussex County Prosecutor's Office handles criminal cases. The main difference between a criminal and civil case is the penalty involved and the burden of proof. A person found guilty of a criminal offense, even a minor offense, may lose his liberty. Conversely, an award of monetary damages usually remedies civil wrongs. In a criminal case, the State must prove a person's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." The burden of proof in a civil case is less stringent. In most civil cases, the plaintiff must prove his case by a "preponderance of the evidence".
If you are the victim of a crime or witness of a crime, you should immediately report the incident to the police department where the crime was committed. If the crime involves child abuse, the crime should be reported to the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). DYFS is a state agency concerned with the welfare of children. All DYFS records of child abuse reports are confidential. Any person who has reasonable cause to believe a child has been subjected to child abuse or neglect must report the abuse to DYFS or risk being prosecuted for failure to report the abuse. In many child abuse cases, especially those involving family members, DYFS will conduct an investigation in conjunction with the Prosecutor's Office to ensure the child's safety.
Once signed, indictable criminal complaints are prosecuted on behalf of the State of New Jersey, not the individual who signed the complaint. A variety of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a complainant's request not to proceed with an indictable prosecution, including the nature and extent of the defendant's prior criminal history, the severity of the alleged crime and whether the defendant has other pending charges in the criminal justice system.
Plea agreements are necessary and are often no "bargain." If every defendant charged with a crime decided to go to trial, our criminal justice system would literally come to a standstill. Victims would have to wait years for a decision, witnesses would lose interest, memories would fade, evidence would deteriorate, defendants would disappear, etc. Fortunately, the vast majority of defendants decide to plead guilty rather than contest their guilt by trial. They do so, not because they are offered lenient sentences, but because they are offered fair sentences - sentences which appropriately redress the wrongs they have committed. Occasionally a defendant will be offered a lenient sentence in return for cooperation with the police, or because an important witness can't be located or because essential evidence in the case was ruled inadmissible. However, most defendants who plead guilty receive the same degree of punishment that they would have received had they proceeded to trial and been convicted.