Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Are police officers the only ones who can sign criminal complaints?
A. No. Criminal complaints may be signed by anyone. However, the vast majority of all criminal complaints are signed by law enforcement officers.
Q. How do I sign a criminal complaint?
A. Contact the Municipal Court Administrator in the municipality where the event occurred. He or she will advise you of the procedures that must be followed.
Q. Before signing a criminal complaint should I contact the police department where the event occurred?
A. Yes, especially if the matter involved violence or the threat of violence. The police will advise you if the matter you are reporting is criminal in nature and whether it requires investigation by their department.
Q. What is a disorderly persons offense and how is it different from a crime?
A. In New Jersey there are basically two types of criminal offenses: crimes and disorderly persons offenses. (In other states these two types of offenses are often referred to as "felonies" and "misdemeanors.") Crimes are punishable by more than six months in jail and are prosecuted by either the County Prosecutor's Office or the Attorney General's Office in the Superior Court, which in Atlantic County is located in Mays Landing. In addition, those charged with committing crimes are entitled to have their matters reviewed by a grand jury and tried by a petit jury. Disorderly persons offenses are punishable by up to a maximum of six months in jail and are typically prosecuted by a municipal prosecutor in municipal court. Those charged with disorderly persons offenses are not entitled to either grand jury presentation or trial by jury.
Q. I was told by the Municipal Court Administrator that the complaint that I signed was remanded by the Prosecutor's Office. What does that mean?
A. All complaints charging crimes are immediately referred to the County Prosecutor's Office for review. Once received, the Prosecutor's Office reviews the complaint, obtains any police reports that were prepared concerning it and, where indicated, contacts the complainant/victim and/or investigating police officer for further information and comment. If the Prosecutor's Office determines that the complaint can be adequately dealt with by the local municipal court, the crime charged in the complaint will be amended to state a disorderly persons offense and the complaint will be returned to the municipal court for trial.
Q. I want to dismiss a complaint that I signed. How do I go about doing this?
A. If the complaint charges a disorderly persons offense only, contact the municipal court where you signed the complaint. If the complaint charges an indictable offense (crime), contact the County Prosecutor's Office.
Q. When I contacted the Prosecutor's Office and told them that I wanted to dismiss the indictable complaint that I signed, I was told that my "request" would not be honored and that the complaint had been referred to the Grand Jury. Why?
A. Once signed, indictable criminal complaints are prosecuted on behalf of the State of New Jersey, not the individual who signed the complaint. A variety of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a complainant's request to dismiss an indictable complaint, including the nature and extent of the defendant's prior criminal history, the severity of the alleged crime and whether the defendant has other pending charges in the criminal justice system.
Q. What is a Grand Jury?
A. Both the State and Federal Constitutions guarantee every individual charged with a crime the right to have his/her matter reviewed by an independent body before they can be made subject to significant criminal penalties. This body is called a grand jury. In Atlantic County there are grand juries that sit Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Each is comprised of 23 grand jurors who are selected at random by the Assignment Judge of the County Superior Court. These grand juries hear evidence regarding criminal matters and decide if those charged should be "indicted", or formally made to answer for their alleged offenses. Because of the sensitive and important subject matter that grand juries deal with, their meetings are closed to the public and all evidence collected by them is kept secret unless and until a Superior Court Judge orders otherwise.
Q. My home was broken into and valuable items were stolen. The police caught the individual who broke in and recovered all of my property. How do I get it back?
A. Contact the Office of Victim/Witness Advocacy of the Prosecutor's Office at (609) 704-7800. In most cases, recovered valuables can be returned as soon as they are logged in and photographed by the police.
Q. What is the Domestic Violence Act?
A. The Domestic Violence Act (N.J.S.A. 2C:25-18 et. seq.) is a series of laws designed to protect victims of domestic violence.
A. The most sought-after and powerful relief provided by the act is a Restraining Order. A Restraining Order can either be temporary or final and can only be issued by a judge. If issued, a Restraining Order can direct an offender to stay away from a victim, the victim's family, and the victim's friends. It can also direct an offender to stay away from the victim's residence, place of employment and other places frequented by the victim.
Q. How do I get Restraining Order?
A. Between the hours of 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, you can apply for a Restraining Order in the Family Court Reception Office of the Superior Court on Bacharach Boulevard in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After 3:30 pm, contact your local police department. They will contact a judge to determine whether a Restraining Order should be granted.
Q. How do I know if I am entitled to a Restraining Order?
A. To qualify for a Restraining Order you must be a victim who has been subjected to an act of domestic violence.
"Victim" means any person 18 years of age or older, who has been subjected to an act of domestic violence by a spouse, former spouse, or present or former household member. It also includes any person, regardless of age, who has been subjected to an act of domestic violence by a person with whom he/she has a child in common, or if one of the parties is pregnant by the other. It also includes a person with whom the defendant has had a dating relationship.
"Domestic Violence" means any of the following acts committed against a "victim" as defined above: Homicide; Assault; Terroristic Threats; Kidnapping; Criminal Restraint; False Imprisonment; Sexual Assault; Criminal Sexual Contact; Lewdness; Criminal Mischief; Burglary; Criminal Trespass; Harassment; and Stalking.
Q. Can I get a Restraining Order against a juvenile?
A. Only if you have a child by the juvenile and have been subjected to an act of domestic violence.
Q. What happens when I go to court to get a Restraining Order?
A. In the Superior Court, Family Reception Office, you will be asked to fill out a domestic violence complaint. A domestic violence complaint is a civil complaint, not a criminal complaint. You will then appear before a judge who will review the complaint and ask you some questions. If the judge is satisfied, a Temporary Restraining Order will be issued and a date will be set for a Final Restraining Order hearing. After hours, the same procedure is followed, however, the judge is contacted over the telephone by the local police department and the order is issued over the phone.
Q. What is the difference between a Temporary and Final Restraining Order?
A. A Temporary Restraining Order is issued based only upon the input of the victim. The defendant is not notified by the court and is not present. A Temporary Restraining Order is intended to provide exactly the same relief to the victim as a Final Restraining Order. However, it is intended to last only until the final hearing.
Q. Does that mean that my Temporary Restraining Order can expire?
A. No. A Temporary Restraining Order will last until it is dismissed by the court at the request of the victim; or if a final hearing is held and a Final Restraining Order is not granted. There is no time limit on a Temporary Restraining Order. If the defendant is served with the Restraining Order but does not appear for a final hearing, the Temporary Restraining Order can continue indefinitely or a Final Restraining Order can be granted by the Court despite the defendant's failure to appear at the hearing.
Q. How long does a Final Restraining Order last?
A. If there has been a final hearing and a Final Restraining Order has been granted, it will last until the victim asks the court to dismiss it. If there is no request for dismissal by the victim, it will last indefinitely.
Q. Do I have to tell the defendant my address to get a Restraining Order?
A. No. If your current address is not known to the defendant, the court will not compel you to tell the defendant. The Order will merely indicate that the defendant is "barred from the current residence."
Q. I have moved a few times and my Restraining Order has my old address and my old place of employment. What should I do?
A. If you would like this information added to your Restraining order, you should request a modification of the Restraining Order from the Superior Court. A new hearing date will be set and the modifications will be made. However, be aware that this information will be made available to the defendant.
Q. I want to drop my Restraining Order. Can I just let the defendant move back in and start seeing him/her again?
A. No. Restraining Orders can only be dismissed by a court. Any violation of a Restraining Order, even if consented to by a victim, may result in the arrest and incarceration of a defendant.
Q. What do I do if I feel my Restraining Order has been violated?
A. Call the police. A violation of a Restraining Order is a crime, punishable by up to 18 months in jail. Restraining Order violations are treated very seriously by law enforcement and the courts. Violations typically result in complaints being issued by either the police or victim. If you encounter problems in reporting a violation of a Restraining Order, contact the Prosecutor's Office.
Q: Who must report child abuse?
A: Any person who reasonably suspects that a child is a victim of child abuse must report this information to the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).
Q: What is DYFS?
A: The Division of Youth and Family Services is the agency created by the State concerned with the welfare of children. In many child abuse cases, especially those involving family members, DYFS will conduct an investigation cooperatively with the law enforcement authorities in order to ensure a child's future safety.
Q: Are child victims of abuse required to testify in court?
A: Although the courts have made certain provisions in order to make the presentation of child abuse cases easier on the victims, in most cases the child victim will be required to testify personally in the courtroom.