The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office recognizes its basic duty to protect citizens from violent crimes and property crimes. We are very much aware that a crime is not solely a wrong against the State, but more importantly, it is a wrong committed against a victim.
The Office of Victim Witness Advocacy within the Prosecutor’s Office ensures that the rights of crime victims and witnesses are protected.
The Criminal Justice System has begun to give proper attention to those called upon to assist and testify in the prosecution of people charged with crimes. Victims of crime may experience emotional trauma, physical pain and financial loss. For most, there is tremendous confusion regarding the Criminal Justice System and how it works. We are committed to addressing your special needs and are here to offer you our support and answer your questions about your vital role in our justice system.
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office is required by law to provide defense attorneys with names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses for the State. Defense counsel may contact you to discuss what you know about the case. If this happens, you have the right to choose whether or not you will talk to the defense attorney or someone representing his office. You also have the right to have someone from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office or your personal attorney present at the interview.
It is our hope that the services and information provided in this brochure will help you to prepare for the events which you may encounter as your case proceeds to its conclusion.
The Camden County Office of Victim Witness Advocacy provides the following services for victims and witnesses involved in the prosecution of a case:
1. Information about the Criminal Justice System;
2. Information about the specific case in which you are involved;
3. Information about available services to meet needs resulting from the crime and referrals to appropriate social service agencies;
4. Information and assistance in filing claims with the N.J. Victims of Crime Compensation Office;
5. A separate victim witness waiting area for use during court proceedings;
6. Courtroom accompaniment;
7. Information about transportation, parking facilities, and courthouse location;
8. Assistance with return of property when it is no longer needed as evidence;
9. Assistance in filling out Victim Impact Statements prior to sentencing;
10. Assistance in applying for restitution;
11. Employer notification or intervention;
12. Assistance in obtaining results of HIV/AIDS testing of defendant;
13. Referrals for medical testing and counseling for victims of sexual assault;
14. Notification of defendant’s release from custody; and
15. Interpreting services.
THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS IN CAMDEN COUNTY
The process begins when a law enforcement officer or a private citizen files a criminal complaint. The person signing the complaint must swear to facts that show that a crime was committed and that it was probably committed by the accused, the defendant.
After the complaint is signed, the local court where the complaint was signed will issue either an Arrest Warrant or a Summons. Certain crimes require the use of a warrant. Normally, summonses are issued for non-violent crimes. The summons is a court order for the defendant to appear for an arraignment. The defendant is not formally arrested unless he or she fails to appear on the scheduled date. At arraignment, an informal hearing, the defendant is given a copy of the complaint and advised of his rights. Bail is set for future complaint and the defendant advised of his rights. Bail is set for future court appearances. The purpose of bail is not to punish a defendant. Rather, bail must be set at a level which will ensure the defendant’s appearance in court. A judge can consider the seriousness of the crime, the prior record of the defendant and the defendant’s ties to the community when determining the bail amount.
In Camden County, the first formal arraignment takes place in a central location, C.J.P. (Central Judicial Processing) court, which is located in the Hall of Justice in Camden City. This hearing usually occurs within seven to 12 days after the complaint is filed. The defendant either applies for a public defender or appears with his private attorney. An Assistant Camden County Prosecutor will review the charges and police reports to decide how to proceed with the case. The prosecutor can decide not to prosecute, to refer the case for possible prosecution, or to lower the charge to a disorderly persons offense. If the charge is lowered, the prosecutor will refer it back to the municipality where it originated.
At C.J.P., there is no testimony taken and the complaining party or victim is not required to attend. It is advisable that a victim contact the prosecutor before the hearing so that input can be provided. At times, the prosecutor may dispose of the case against the victim’s wishes. The prosecutor must, however, make a decision based on the strength of the evidence, the likelihood of conviction, the seriousness of the crime, and the prior history of the accused.
At C.J.P., certain cases which may be suitable for early disposition are selected for Pre-Indictment Conference (P.I.C.). P.I.C. is a case management system designed to move cases more expeditiously through the Criminal Division of the Camden County Superior Court, providing benefits to defendants if they plead guilty, as well as benefits to victims and the Criminal Justice System by way of a prompt resolution.
If the case is referred to the Prosecutor’s Office, it may thereafter still be returned to a municipal court. If the prosecutor decides to prosecute at the Superior Court level, he will present the matter to a Grand Jury for review.
A Grand Jury is a body of 23 citizens that hears evidence presented by the Prosecutor about an alleged crime. If at least 12 of the jurors determine that there is sufficient evidence to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed it, the case is True Billed and an Indictment is returned. If the matter is No-Billed, the proceedings may ordinarily be considered terminated. In certain cases however, with additional evidence, the case may by re-presented to the Grand Jury.
Grand Jury can also vote to remand a case to Municipal Court, which can sentence a defendant to fines of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail on a disorderly persons offense. Also, restitution can be ordered to the victim.
Grand Jury proceedings are held in secret, and only the jurors, the Prosecutor, the Court Clerk, the Court Reporter and witnesses are present. The defendant may appear, but this is rare. Testimony before the Grand Jury cannot be disclosed to anyone except by Court Order.
Upon indictment, the defendant must appear with his attorney before a Superior Court Judge. At this arraignment, the defendant receives a copy of the indictment, a plea of guilty or not guilty is entered, and a date is set for a Status Conference.
The defendant may be eligible for the Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI). With the consent of the Prosecutor, the defendant who is accepted into PTI is diverted into rehabilitative counseling and supervision, and placed on probation without a trial or entry of a guilty plea. Upon successful completion of the program, the charges against the defendant will be dismissed. If applicable, restitution is ordered.
At a Status or Pre-Trial Conference, the defendant, his attorney and the Assistant Prosecutor appear. This is an opportunity for both parties to negotiate a plea agreement, whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to some of the charges with the Prosecutor often recommending a sentence or the dismissal of other charges. Plea bargaining is a necessary aspect of Camden County’s criminal justice process because it promotes the speedy disposition of cases without the necessity of a lengthy trial. The goal of the Prosecutor in plea bargaining is to achieve approximately the same result as would have occurred if the defendant had gone to trial. If a plea cannot be agreed upon, a date is set for a trial. Over 10,000 cases enter the Criminal Justice System each year in Camden County. If each one were to be tried in Superior Court, the cost to taxpayers would be astronomical. Out of 10,000 cases filed, approximately 3,400 are indicted. Plea bargains also eliminate the fear of testifying for victims and witnesses.
In a trial, the Assistant Prosecutor presents the case for the State, attempting to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did commit the crime as charged. If the judge or jury finds that this burden of proof has not been met, the defendant must be found Not Guilty. If this occurs, it does not mean that the victim was not believed, or that the defendant is believed to be innocent. A not guilty verdict only means that the evidence presented was not sufficient to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the defendant has been found Guilty after a trial, or has decided to plead guilty, the judge will consider sentence recommendations by the State, the Probation Department, and Victim Impact Statements prepared by the victim or the victim’s family. Sentences may include imprisonment in county jail or state prison, probation, fines and a Violent Crime Compensation penalty. Special conditions of probation, such as restitution, counseling for the defendant or an order to stay away from the victim may be imposed in certain cases.
If you have suffered out-of-pocket expenses as a result of your victimization, the judge may, in appropriate cases, order the defendant to reimburse you for your financial loss as a condition of the sentence imposed. You will be asked to provide the Prosecutors Office with documentation of your losses. Save all bills, receipts and copies of checks received from insurance companies for this purpose.
The Camden County Probation Department is responsible for the supervision of offenders and the collection and distribution of support monies, fines, restitution and Violent Crime Penalties as ordered by the Court. If you have questions concerning Probation, call (856) 379-5145 for additional information or appropriate referral.
New Jersey law provides for compensation for victims of violent crimes or their dependents who have suffered out-of-pocket losses due to physical or emotional injury, loss of income or death. The Office of Victim Witness Advocacy can assist you in determining your eligibility for this fund and in filing a claim, or you can contact:
Victims of Crime Compensation Office
50 Park Place
Newark, New Jersey 07102
IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU KEEP THE OFFICE OF VICTIM WITNESS ADVOCACY INFORMED OF ANY CHANGE OF ADDRESS OR TELEPHONE NUMBER.
In case of witness intimidation, call the law enforcement officer in charge of the case or the Prosecutor’s Office. Do so as soon as possible, so that the threats can be documented and action can be taken to prevent reoccurrence.