If you have recently been accused of a crime in New Jersey, there’s no doubt you have plenty of questions about all the terms and rules that could apply to your case. In this difficult situation, knowing what to expect and how to interpret different terms could make a big difference in your ability to navigate the situation and respond to criminal charges.

Criminal Complaints: Summons and Warrants

A criminal complaint in New Jersey can be started by any citizen or police officer, even though the police are the most likely to issue a complaint. They come in two different forms: warrant complaints and summons complaints. When a warrant complaint has been filed with the court, the judge reviews it. If the judge signs the complaint, this authorizes police officers to arrest the accused individual named in the complaint. Warrant complaints are issued in cases involving more serious crimes, including: homicide, aggravated manslaughter, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, robbery, carjacking, or escape, or an attempt to commit any of these crimes. A warrant complaint may also be issued if a defendant has been extradited from another state in connection with a criminal charge.

Warrant complaints are usually filed for serious crimes, whereas summons complaints are generally issued for disorderly persons offenses. Under a summons complaint, this formally orders the person to appear in court in relation to the issue named in the complaint, but does not empower officers to seek out the person and arrest them. However, it should be noted that you may be arrested at the time that the summons complaint is issued. In other words, a summons complaint may be issued for a disorderly persons offense after your initial arrest and processing or “booking” at the police station. Also, in cases involving domestic violence disorderly persons offenses such as simple assault, bail reform in New Jersey now requires an initial arrest and detention hearing for any person charged with an act of domestic violence.

Offenses: Indictable, Disorderly Persons, & Petty Disorderly Persons 

Crimes in New Jersey are charged at various levels, depending on the severity of the crime and other factors. Indictable offenses in NJ are similar to what other states would call felonies, referring to more serious crimes. Other terms used to describe what most states would call misdemeanors are known as petty disorderly person offenses and disorderly person offenses in New Jersey. A few factors could lead the prosecution to elevate a disorderly persons offense to the level of indictable offense, or vice versa.

Complaint Administrative Dismissal

Not all complaints go through the formal legal process ending in criminal charges. For instance, a complaint could be dismissed based on a court determination that there’s not enough evidence to proceed. A complaint could also be dismissed at the request of the victim, but the court does not always have to honor the victim’s wishes. When evaluating whether or not to dismiss a complaint, factors like prior criminal history of the defendant, whether there are any other pending charges, and the severity of the crime, are all taken into account.

Municipal Remand

Certain complaints might be subject to something known as municipal remand. This is done when the prosecutors on the case believe that the case can be fully dealt with at the municipal level. The charge will be amended to a disorderly persons offense and then transferred down to the local Municipal Court, where the case will then be adjudicated. A municipal remand is a very positive thing for a defendant, as it means they will be exposed to less severe penalties than those that are on the line in a Superior Court case for a felony.

Under certain circumstances, your attorney may be able to negotiate a charge reduction down to a disorderly persons offense and secure a transfer from the County Superior Court to the local Municipal Court. This always depends on the facts of your case and the specific charge you are facing, but if a downgrade and remand is successful, the punishments associated with a conviction can be significantly reduced.

Bench Warrant

A bench warrant is an order issued by the court when there is a claim that the person in question has failed to do something that he/she was required to do through orders from the court. There are a few different reasons why the court would issue a bench warrant, including a parole violation, failure to appear for a court date, contempt for failure to comply with court-ordered conditions, violation of a condition of bail, failure to pay child support, or failure to pay fines. Once a person has been arrested on a bench warrant, that person stays in custody until the warrant is recalled, the conditions of the warrant have been satisfied, or the person satisfies the conditions of bail, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.


An arraignment is also known as a first appearance in court for a criminal case. This is the point in time at which the defendant is read the specific charges against them and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the defendant enters a plea of not guilty, there are several options for what happens next. The state might make a plea offer, or the case could be resolved by way of entrance into the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program. Typically, these decisions are made during pre-indictement conferences and pre-trial hearings. If the case is not resolved in the pre-trial phases, it will proceed to trial. The case is scheduled for sentencing only if the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty after a trial.

Grand Jury

Both state and federal constitutions guarantee that every person charged with a crime have the right to an independent review by a Grand Jury. Remember, a “crime” in New Jersey solely refers to indictable crimes (also known as felonies). Other criminal offenses that are not subject to indictment are classified as either disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses. A  case could also be referred by the prosecutor to the Grand Jury. The job of the grand jury is to hear and decide whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal charge. The case will be dismissed as “no bill” if there is not sufficient evidence to move forward.

It is important to note that grand jury proceedings only apply to indictable crimes in New Jersey, which are essentially equivalent to felonies in states other than New Jersey. An indictable crime must be formally indicted by a Grand Jury before the case proceeds to trial. This process only occurs in New Jersey Superior Court. Municipal court cases are heard and decided by the individual presiding judge in the local court in the municipality where the charges were issued.

Have a Criminal Case? Get a Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Help

It is very important for anyone accused of any criminal offense in Morris County or elsewhere in New Jersey to have a dedicated criminal defense attorney’s help. Understanding the criminal justice process, your rights, and what your specific charges mean is imperative if you want to pursue your best option. Our lawyers have extensive experience practicing criminal defense in Morristown, Morris County, and throughout NJ and we are here to help you. Simply contact us to receive a free consultation and get the essential information you need now.