In New Jersey, a police officer who arrests a suspect without a warrant must take the arrestee to the police station and immediately prepare a complaint. (This kind of complaint, which can also result from a grand jury's indictment, differs from the “criminal complaint,” which represents the prosecution’s decision to press charges.)
(For more information about initial appearances and arraignment, including the concept of “unnecessary delay,” see Arraignment: Getting to Court. For more on the criminal process in New Jersey, see the New Jersey Courts website.)
Holding in Custody and Setting Bail
An arresting officer may release the suspect or continue to hold him or her in custody. In the latter instance, the officer must present the case to a judge (or judicial officer) without unnecessary delay, but in no event more than 12 hours after arrest.
The judge then determines whether to issue a warrant or summons—if she issues a summons, the defendant is released but ordered to be in court for the next court appearance. If the judge issues a warrant, the suspect stays in custody and the judge immediately sets bail. On the off-chance that the judge finds no probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the alleged offense, she will dismiss the complaint.
Someone arrested pursuant to a warrant has a right to a bail determination if bail hasn’t been set in the warrant. That determination must occur, again, without unnecessary delay, and no more than 12 hours after arrest. (N.J. Rules Ct. R. 3:3-1, 3:4-1.)
First Court Appearance
After the filing of a complaint, the authorities must bring a suspect to court without unnecessary delay. If the defendant is in custody, the first appearance must occur within 72 hours of the arrest. (Holidays are excluded from the time calculation.)
At the defendant’s first court appearance, the judge must:
- give him or her a copy of the complaint and recite the charges
- inform him or her of certain procedures and rights (such as the rights to silence and counsel),
- and set bail if appropriate.
Suspects who aren’t in jail and who have an attorney may waive the first appearance by filing a written form to that effect. (N.J. Rules Ct. R. 3:4-2.)
“Arraignment” in New Jersey is distinct from the first appearance—it occurs later, after the filing of an indictment. It involves the court presenting the charges to the defendant and asking him or her to enter a plea. (See How should I plead at arraignment?) Defendants who are represented by counsel may be able to plead not guilty in writing in lieu of conventional arraignment. (N.J. Rules Ct. R. 7:6-1.)
Consult a Lawyer
If you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’ve been to court yet, seek the help of a knowledgeable attorney. Only such a lawyer can properly advise you of the applicable law and enforce your rights.