Cases involving criminal, civil and family law are heard in the Superior Court. The Superior Court is sometimes called the trial court because it is where trials are conducted. There is a Superior Court in each of New Jersey's 21 counties. There are approximately 360 Superior Court trial judges in New Jersey
Criminal cases are those in which a defendant is accused of a serious crime, such as robbery, theft, drug possession or murder. In a criminal case, a prosecutor tries to prove that the defendant committed a crime. The prosecutor is an attorney who represents the State of New Jersey, and the defense attorney represents the defendant. The judge oversees the proceedings and ensures that they are conducted according to the law and the rules of court
Not every criminal case is decided by a trial. Many cases are resolved through a plea bargain. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty by admitting that he or she committed a crime. In return, the prosecutor asks the judge to impose a sentence that is less severe than if the defendant had gone to trial and been convicted. The judge, however, is not required to agree to the recommendation and may choose to ignore it. A plea bargain ensures that a guilty defendant is punished. Plea bargains can be entered either before or even during the trial.
Civil lawsuits are cases in which a plaintiff claims that he or she has been injured by the actions of the defendant. Injury is a legal term meaning any harm done to a person's body, property, reputation or rights.
In some civil cases, the plaintiff seeks damages, or money, from the defendant as compensation for injuries allegedly caused by the defendant. Examples are cases involving car accidents, age, race or gender discrimination in the workplace, medical malpractice, defective products, differences over the terms of contracts, and disputes between landlords and tenants.
Not all civil cases, however, involve attempts to receive compensation for injuries. People also file lawsuits to enforce their rights. In New Jersey, these kinds of non-monetary lawsuits are called General Equity cases. A General Equity case may involve a terminally ill person s right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment, or a dispute between labor and management over rights in the workplace, or even a company s ability to protect its trade secrets, such as how it makes or markets a product.
Instead of money, the plaintiff in a General Equity case may ask the court to order the defendant to do something: remove a feeding tube, for instance, or end a strike and return to work. General Equity cases are decided by judges instead of juries.
As in criminal cases, the parties in civil cases often agree to settle their disputes without a trial. Settlements may occur before a trial starts or even during a trial. A settlement allows each side to resolve the dispute satisfactorily rather than risk losing at a trial.
Family cases are civil cases in which the disputes involve children, spouses or domestic partners. Examples of family cases are those involving divorce, adoption, juvenile delinquency, child abuse, child support, and domestic violence. Most cases in the Family Court are decided by a judge instead of a jury. To protect the privacy of children, judges are permitted to close some types of Family Court cases to the public.