Hunterdon County Division of Corrections Criminal Court Process

Criminal Court Process for Hunterdon County New Jersey

Information on the criminal court process for offenders arrested in Hunterdon County New Jersey and booked into the Hunterdon County Division of Corrections. From the arrest to the sentencing and everything in between.

Hunterdon County Division of Corrections Criminal Court Process

Criminal Court Process for Hunterdon County New Jersey

Hunterdon County New Jersey Criminal Court System – Definitions

It might be helpful to define some words that will be used on this site, when explaining the New Jersey Court System and how it works. The definitions on this site are for general information and not legal advice. It is always preferred to follow information given by your attorney or local authorities.

If you scroll down below this content, and the listing of the courts in Hunterdon County, you will find a simple flowchart diagram and a video that will help you visualize the stages of the Criminal Court Process.

Arrest is when New Jersey, Hunterdon County or local police take a person into custody and start the legal process. The arrested person may or may not be immediately jailed. 

In less serious crimes, the person may only be given a citation ordering that they appear in municipal or Hunterdon County court on a certain date. In cases involving more serious crimes, the person is usually placed in the county jail until an arraignment, or a judge decides the next step.

Booking is when the Hunterdon County sheriff or local police gather information such as the detainee’s name, address and why the person is being arrested. Booking also includes fingerprinting, criminal history, investigation, and verification of identity. Bail for lower-level crimes may be set right after booking so the arrested can “bail or bond out” before being detained.  

In New Jersey, when the arrested is being charged, the arresting officer will enter the defendant’s information into a computer program that will run all the information through a program that will suggest whether the defendant should be held in jail or released until time of trial.

The prosecution, sometimes called “the government” or “the people” or “the state” is the side that presses the charges and seeks punishment for the offense. These are attorneys that work for the state of New Jersey, Hunterdon County or a city or town.  The prosecuting attorney for Hunterdon County or the district is called the Assistant Prosecutor or County Attorney. A U.S. Attorney prosecutes federal cases.  

Jurisdiction is an important term in the court system that means whether a court has the obligation or duty or right to handle a case.  For example, if you run a red light in your town or city, a municipal court would likely have jurisdiction over your case, but the next town or city over would not have jurisdiction over your case.  If you attempted to flee from police when they attempted to stop you after you ran the red light, it becomes a more serious crime, and the municipal court might not have jurisdiction so you might be assigned to a higher-level court that has jurisdiction over the more serious crime.  Jurisdiction varies from state to state and sometimes county to county.

Arraignment is when a judge determines whether the charges are supported by the prosecution’s initial evidence and tells the arrested what they are charged with, and the person says whether they are guilty or not guilty. At this time, the person is called the defendant, and the opposing side is called the prosecution. If there is reason to believe that the arrested is guilty, the judge will set bail conditions or send the defendant to jail or release them ROR (release on recognizances).

An arraignment is not a trial, and the defendant is entitled to a trial within a reasonable amount of time after the arraignment. In New Jersey, a first appearance hearing is held within 24 to 48 hours of a defendant being taken to a county jail.  Within 48 hours after a defendant is taken to jail, a motion for detention must be made and a hearing is held within 3-5 business days.

Previously in New Jersey, a bond proceeding determined how much bail is to be paid and it usually happened at the same time as an arraignment. However, New Jersey has mostly done away with the bail/bond system in 2017 except for cases involving unpaid motor vehicle summonses.  Defendants with a serious risk of danger or flight can be detained pending trial.  Low-risk defendants will be released. Pretrial service officers will monitor those defendants, based on the conditions of their release while the defendant is out of custody pending rial.  

A judge may order a variety of conditions while the defendant is awaiting trial, such as a GPS location monitor, checking in via phone or in person with a pretrial services officer, no contact with an alleged victim, and other conditions similar to probation.

It is always important to have family involvement after being arrested.  Not only can they make calls and communicate on your behalf, but family support will show the court that there are people who will make sure that the defendant makes it to court.

(There have been phone scams where a bond company calls and informs a person that their family member has been arrested and they ask for financial information.  A bondsman will not call asking for money without involvement of the arrested.)

A judicial public bond or personal recognizance bond is a bond where someone representing the defendant signs paperwork promising to pay the money if the defendant does not show up to court. If the defendant does not show, the full amount will be due and the people who signed the paperwork will be responsible for paying the court.  Sometimes the court decides that there is a good chance that the arrested will show up for trial and not flee so they are released on their own promise, or recognizance.  

A criminal defense attorney (also called lawyer or counsel) is hired or retained to represent the arrested as early as possible after the arrest.

If there is a chance that the case might go to trial and the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that the court provide an attorney. This is called indigent representation and a public defender or assigned attorney would represent the defendant in all proceedings. Indigent representation is only available misdemeanor and felony cases that could result in jail time, juvenile cases, and certain appeal cases.

The State of New Jersey funds 100% of felony and juvenile cases through public defenders whereas the local governments pay for all misdemeanors mostly through contracted private attorneys. The time to ask for indigent representation is as soon as possible to avoid errors while not represented.

For less serious cases or civil cases, there are pro bono volunteers who volunteer legal services for free or for a small fee. They often will hold clinics to teach people how to represent themselves in court or expunge their record which means to legally erase or eliminate a criminal or arrest record from public view. This website provides contact information for pro bono services in New Jersey.

Many courts will provide forms and help for people who want to represent themselves, called pro se.  Here is a link for legal self-help in New Jersey.

A district court can refer to the first level of the legal system, or a minor court. District courts are in the community.  A district court can also refer to a U.S. Federal District Court that hears federal cases. There is one U.S. federal district in New Jersey with offices throughout the state. It is important that you check the address of the court you are to appear in rather than to ask someone because that person might give you directions to the wrong “district” court. Being late for court can land you in custody as well.

Pretrial proceeding is the process where both sides (prosecution and defense) gather information, interview witnesses, request records, videos etc. Pretrial proceedings also include communications with the judge assigned to the case and these appearances are either in person or by on-line conferencing. Some pretrial proceedings may not require a defendant’s appearance, allowing an attorney to appear in their place. The information that is gathered is called discovery and both sides must share the information that they have gathered.  This information does not include conversations between the arrested and their attorney.

Most cases do not go to trial because both sides reach a plea deal, where both sides try to reach a reasonable punishment based on what was learned in the pretrial proceedings.  A plea deal can only happen if the accused person admits they are guilty in exchange for a lighter punishment.  The reason they must admit guilt is because it would not be fair to punish someone who claims they are not guilty.  There are times in plea bargaining when the prosecution agrees to give a lighter sentence in exchange for information leading to the arrest of a more serious criminal related to the crime.  

Trial is where both sides share their information in front of a judge or a judge and jury. After listening to all the evidence, the judge or jury decides the verdict which is whether the person is guilty or not guilty. If a court has only a judge hearing both sides, it is called a bench trial.  If a jury is selected, it is called a jury trial.  If the defendant is found not guilty, they are released.  If they are found to be guilty, the next step is sentencing.

Sentencing is the punishment that the judge decides the person should get. This could be jail or prison time, fines, community service, probation, or a combination.

Appeal is asking for a higher court to hear the case again at an appellate court.  If the accused person thinks something went wrong at trial or has new information that was not available during the trial or that the sentence is too harsh, the defense attorney can ask for an appeal. It is not unusual for an appeal when there is a long jail sentence, but an appeal can be denied if the appellate court feels that the original trial or sentencing was fair.

New Jersey Felony vs Misdemeanor

Unlike most other states, New Jersey does not have “felonies and misdemeanors”. Instead, crimes are categorized into either Crimes, Disorderly Persons offenses (DP) and Petty Disorderly Persons offenses (PDP).

Other New Jersey crime categories include indictable and non-indictable. Indictable crimes are ordered (first, second, third and fourth). These are similar to “felonies” in other states. First-degree crimes are the most serious and fourth degree crimes are less serious.

An example of a first-degree crime would be homicide. An example of a fourth-degree crime would be stalking. Theft offenses, depending on the dollar amount of the property stolen, can be a first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree crime.  

An example of a Disorderly Persons offense would be possession of drug paraphernalia. An example of a Petty Disorderly Persons offense would be simple assault when both parties in a fight mutually agreed to fight.

Non-indictable are either disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses and these offenses are similar to “misdemeanors” in other states.

  • First-degree crime – possible term of 10 to 20 years in state prison, fine not to exceed $200,000.
  • Second-degree crime – possible term of 5 to 10 years in state prison, fine not to exceed $150,000
  • Third-degree crime – possible term of 3 o5 ears in state prison, fine not to exceed $15,000
  • Fourth-degree crime – up to 18 months in state prison, fine not to exceed $10,000
  • Disorderly Persons offense – Up to 364 days n county jail, fine not to exceed $1,000
  • Petty Disorderly Persons offense – up to 30 days in county jail, fine not to exceed $500

In the event of a conviction of a first- or second-degree crime, there is a presumption of some type of prison sentence. In the event of a conviction of a third degree or fourth degree crime, there is a presumption of no prison sentence. It may be argued by both the prosecution and the defense in front of the judge and the judge may depart from the sentencing guideline based on the circumstances of the case.

The Hunterdon County Clerk of Court is an elected official whose responsibilities for Criminal Court’s administrative issues include receiving criminal warrants, receiving bail, creating the trial schedule, receiving fees, fines and maintaining court records.

A warrant is used to get someone to appear in court or to law enforcement.  There must be good reason to believe that the person is involved in a crime. The warrant gives authority to arrest the person and search for evidence for the investigation of the crime. 

A criminal summons is issued to request that a person appear in court at a particular time and date.  It does not involve an arrest.  A traffic ticket, summary citation or lesser misdemeanor could be considered a summons if you are given a court date.

A summary citation, commonly referred to as a ticket, is a criminal summons by a law enforcement officer either in person or via mail accusing the defendant of a minor offense, stating potential fine, listing the court having jurisdiction and instructions for addressing the issue. Defendants may or may not be required to appear in court or handle the matter by entering a plea via mail.

Fines are usually paid to the District Court or clerk of court and payment methods can be found on the District Court or Hunterdon County Clerk of Court website. If you do not pay your fine on time, you can lose your driver’s license, must pay additional fees or even have a warrant for your arrest.  It is important to read the instructions on the ticket issued by the police officer or court at the time of your arrest. For a parking ticket or summary citation, the fine amount and how to send payment should be on the ticket. 

New Jersey Criminal Court System - How it Works

New Jersey Municipal Courts handle violations of municipal ordinances, traffic violations, parking violations, DWI cases that occur within the city or town’s police jurisdiction as well as disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses. In addition, municipal courts may handle certain third- and fourth-degree cases if the Superior Court “remands” the case, meaning that it heard the case on an appeal and gave it back to the municipal court to hear again.  

A Superior Court may remand the case for a variety of reasons, such as the circumstances of the crime itself being less serious than typical or if the defendant has no or little criminal history. DPs and PDPs are most often handled in local municipal court, right alongside with traffic offenses.

New Jersey Superior Courts handle all cases in which a felony is involved in a string of other crimes.  For instance, if someone is arrested for a DWI (a traffic offense) and is then also found to be in possession of over 5 ounces of cocaine (a first-degree crime), the Superior Court will handle both cases simultaneously. The superior court can also hear appeals from the municipal courts. Crimes are most often handled in County Superior Court. 

Specialty courts or problem-solving courts are being adopted in many states to handle cases that involve non-violent and first-time offender cases in a way to where the offender can retain a job or responsibilities while following specific orders of the court as returned court appearances, periodic evaluations or testing for substances. The following link provides information about New Jersey’s Recovery Courts, and for a brochure about Recovery courts in your area, click this link.

The New Jersey Supreme Court is like our United States’ Supreme Court because it has a panel of judges that rule on matters that have to do with someone’s constitutional rights or policies and laws. The New Jersey State Supreme Court deals with the state constitution or laws or policies. Sometimes the Supreme Court will hear criminal cases on appeal when there is a question on the state laws or procedures that lead to the appeal.  

The criminal cases are usually referred from the district courts of appeal.


Federal Court deals with crimes involving violations of United States laws.  Federal crimes include federal drug trafficking, federal tax evasion and fraud that crossed state lines and include crimes that occur on federal property as post offices or federal buildings.  

Cases involving crimes that involve the FBI or DEA or Immigration agencies are federal crimes. Terrorism is a federal crime. 

There are some differences in the Federal court system as compared to the New Jersey state court system. For example, the attorneys who work for the courts are called United States Attorneys and Federal judges are called District Court Judges (not to be confused by local state district courts).  

Federal Magistrate Judges hear the case early on, but they do not decide on the cases at a trial like the Federal District Court Judges. In a federal case, a grand jury is used for indictments.

There is one U.S. Federal Judicial Districts in New Jersey.


1070 US HIGHWAY 202
1070 US HIGHWAY 202
ASBURY NJ, 08802