The arraignment is the first time you go to court in front of a Judge. At the arraignment, you are told what the charges are against you and what your rights are, like the right to a trial and the right to have an attorney appointed for you if you don’t have the money to hire one. After you have been given an attorney, you then answer the charges. You answer the charges by telling the court if you are guilty or not guilty. This is called the plea. Before the plea, your lawyer and the prosecutor may talk about settling your case without having a trial. This is called Plea Bargaining. If you plead not guilty, you will get a court date for a hearing or trial. If you plead guilty, the court will decide your punishment. This is called the Sentencing.
Plea bargaining is when your lawyer and the prosecutor talk about settling the case without having a trial. This can be done at any time during the case, from the arraignment up until a verdict in a trial. You can ask for a plea bargain, but the prosecutor can choose not to plea bargain with you. If you agree on a plea bargain, it must be approved by the Judge. Only the Judge can decide your sentence. For example, you may agree to plead guilty in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise to ask the Judge for a sentence with no jail time, just probation. Or, you and the prosecutor may agree that you will plead guilty to a lesser charge that has a lower range of punishments for the Judge to choose from at your Sentencing.
Was your money or property stolen? Were you hurt or stalked? Maybe your identity was taken? If so, you are a crime victim. If an arrest was made and the police told you that the case is going to court, you may have questions about the criminal case. A criminal case is not the same as a civil case. In a civil case, you start a court case for money or damages against the person who injured you. But, in a criminal case, you can’t bring criminal charges against the person that injured you. You go to the police and the police bring the criminal charges. Criminal cases are handled by a lawyer from the District Attorney’s Office on behalf of the People of the State of New York. The lawyer is called a prosecutor. As a crime victim you are not a party and you do not need to hire an attorney. What you have to say about what happened is part of the prosecutor’s case against the defendant. But, you do have certain rights in the case. If you are a crime victim, an immediate family member of a person who was killed, or an immediate family member or guardian of a child crime victim, this section is for you.
The court system can be confusing and it is a good idea to get a lawyer if you can. The law, the proofs necessary to present your case, and the procedural rules governing cases in the Law Division, Civil Part are complex. Since valuable claims or potentially heavy judgments may be at stake, most litigants appearing in the Law Division, Civil Part have a lawyer. If you are being sued, please contact your insurance company to see if they might provide a lawyer for you. Most likely your opponent will be represented by a lawyer. It is recommended that you make every effort to obtain the assistance of a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may contact the legal services program in your county to see if you qualify for free legal services. The telephone number can be found online or in your local yellow pages under “Legal Aid” or “Legal Services.”
An expungement is the removal and isolation of all records on file within any court, detention or correctional facility, law enforcement, criminal justice agency or juvenile justice agency concerning a person’s apprehension, arrest, detention, trial or disposition of an offense within the criminal or juvenile justice system. Unless otherwise provided by law, if an order for expungement is granted, the adult arrest, the record of law enforcement taking you into custody as a juvenile, conviction, adjudication of delinquency, disposition and any related proceedings are considered not to have occurred. See the section on Comparison of Adult and Juvenile Terms for a glossary of terms that are specific to juvenile court.
The New Jersey expungement law states in detail who is eligible for an expungement.