The Criminal Division of the Essex Vicinage Superior Court manages criminal complaints from the time they are lodged to their resolution or disposition. The accused, or defendant, is charged with an offense as a result of a formal complaint issued by a law enforcement agent or a citizen who believes an offense has been committed against their person or property. It can also result from an indictment by a panel of citizens gathered to consider evidence, called a grand jury. Arrests can occur at the scene of a crime or based on warrants or sworn statements ordering a court appearance. All arrests must be based on probable cause, or reasonable grounds to believe that an offense has been committed, and the defendant may have committed the offense. Complaints state the reasons for the charge, and refer to offenses listed in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (Title 2C) that includes all of the laws against criminal behavior.
Criminal offenses are heard, or considered in the Superior Court, and are more serious than non-criminal charges heard in the Municipal Courts (the court of the municpality where the offense occurred). Defendants found guilty, or convicted of crimes face more serious consequences, with punishments such as probation supervision, fines and the loss of liberty through confinement for a year or more. Crimes are classified by degree. Degrees range from First to Fourth degree offenses. A First degree crime carries the potential penalty of 10-20 years in prison. A Second degree crime carries a potential penalty of 5-10 years. Defendants who are convicted of First and Second degree crimes face a presumptive term of incarceration. This means that it is assumed that they will be sentenced to serve time in prison. A Third degree crime may result in 3-5 years if convicted, while Fourth degree crimes carry a potential penalty of up to 18 months in jail. There is a presumption of non-custodial sentences on Third and Fourth degree offenses.