Author Clark & Noonan, LLC
Posted September 25, 2020
Criminal court proceedings in New Jersey have resumed following a four-month suspension caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
New procedures are in place to protect all individuals involved in the judiciary process.
Whether you’re a juror, attorney, judge, witness, or defendant, it’s important to get familiar with the new procedures and understand how they will affect you.
NJ Courts Re-Open After COVID-19 Pandemic
Are criminal courts open during this challenging time?
When COVID-19 drew attention earlier in the year, New Jersey’s judicial system began preparing for the looming crisis. After consulting with the state Department of Health, the decision was made in early March to cut back on in-person proceedings like jury trials.
Courts in New Jersey had begun in 2017 to conduct remote proceedings on Saturdays. The court system built on that experience. Since the end of March, about 95% of judges and staff have been working remotely.
Resuming jury trials is critical. A temporary solution was needed for these unprecedented circumstances.
For now, a hybrid system is in place. To avoid bringing in large groups of prospective jurors, the initial questioning will be conducted virtually in the presence of the judge and attorneys from both parties. The in-person phase of jury selection will be conducted observing social distancing requirements and with jurors and others generally required to wear masks.
Jurors will then serve in a socially distanced in-person trial, conducted in accordance with public health guidance. Learn more about COVID-19 court procedures from the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
What Happens in Criminal Court?
- A prosecutor tries to prove that the defendant committed a crime. The prosecutor is an attorney who represents the State of New Jersey, and the defense attorney represents the defendant. The judge oversees the proceedings to ensure they are conducted according to the law and the rules of court.
- Most criminal trials are decided by a jury of 12 citizens. The jury hears the evidence presented by the prosecutor and the defense attorney. Testimony may be delivered by witnesses.
- The jury then discusses the case in private. If all the jurors believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence proves the defendant committed the crime, the jury convicts the defendant. After a defendant is convicted, the judge imposes a sentence.
- If the jurors do not believe the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, then they acquit the defendant. If the jurors can’t decide, the judge can declare a mistrial, and a new trial can be held with different jurors.
- Not every criminal case is decided by a trial. Many are resolved through a plea bargain, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. The judge, however, is not required to agree to the recommendation and may ignore it.
When Is the Best Time to Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer?
The best time to reach a criminal defense lawyer is now – by phone, live chat, or by completing our online form. At Clark & Noonan, we have extensive experience in municipal, state, and federal courts throughout the state. As former prosecutors with 30 combined years of courtroom experience, we know New Jersey criminal law from the inside out. Reach out now for your free consultation.