New Jersey’s Municipal Courts
New Jersey’s Municipal Courts
If you get arrested for a crime in the State of New Jersey, your “day in court” will most likely take place in a municipal court in the city, town or township where you got arrested. The municipal court usually has jurisdiction over offenses that occur within the boundaries of its municipality.
Municipal courts in New Jersey deal with traffic and parking tickets, minor criminal offenses (for example, bad checks), municipal ordinances (such as barking dogs or building code violations) and other offenses, like fishing and hunting violations. That said, numerous serious criminal cases, like robberies, auto theft or assault, begin their journey through the justice system as complaints filed in the municipal court before they get transferred to the county’s superior court.
Irrespective of how you perceive the seriousness of a crime you’ve been charged with, you should have experienced legal representation at your side when facing a hearing in a New Jersey municipal court. Even disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey, which include the lowest-level violations of the law, carry penalties of up to 6 months in jail and cash fines of up to $1,000. Conviction will also appear on a criminal background check conducted by potential employers, lenders, public assistance providers, and others interested parties.
Spodek Law Group provides you with an overview of the New Jersey municipal courts system. Our team of experienced lawyers includes former prosecutors and public defenders with decades of experience in the New Jersey municipal courts.
If you or a loved one got arrested or ticketed in New Jersey and have a case coming up in municipal court, call us right away. Someone is available to speak with you 24 hours a day, including on weekends. Our lawyers can step in promptly to uphold your rights and make every effort to avoid or lower any potential penalties.
What Cases are Heard in New Jersey Municipal Courts?
Matters heard in municipal court can be divided into four general categories:
- Motor vehicle and traffic law violations
- Disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses (criminal matters which may result in fines or jail)
- Municipal ordinance (local laws) violations
- J. Division of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Weights and Measures, and boating and animal cruelty (SPCA) regulation violations
Indictable offenses are more serious than these and are sent from the municipal court to the county prosecutor’s office. The county prosecutor then decides whether to present the case to a Grand Jury or to send it back to the municipal court as a less serious offense. Cases that go before a Grand Jury usually results in indictments. These are heard in the New Jersey Superior Court system.
In municipal court matters, a court appearance is always required in criminal matters, including assaults, shoplifting, harassment or simple drug possession charges. On the other hand, for most non-criminal matters, like traffic, boating and Fish and Wildlife violations, a fine can be paid by mail or at the court office.
If the “Court Appearance Required” box has not been checked on a complaint against you, or if the charge is listed on either the Statewide Violations Bureau Schedule or the Local Violations Bureau Schedule, you can pay a fine without appearing in court.
In some traffic or other matters, “Court Appearance Required” gets checked on the ticket, which means you need to appear at a scheduled court hearing, even if you wish to plead guilty.
If “Court Appearance Required” doesn’t get checked on a traffic ticket, you still need to appear in court if:
- You wish to have a trial (when pleading not guilty).
- Your charge is not listed on the Statewide Violations Schedule.
- There is personal injury is involved (for example, you were charged in a car accident).
Regardless of what the charge is, a defendant should have and has a Constitutional right to a legal defense that seeks the best available results in court.
Our lawyers can represent you in any New Jersey Municipal Court statewide to protect your rights and to help resolve your case brought in a manner that is as beneficial to you as it can be.
Call Spodek Law Group for assistance with:
- Disorderly Persons Offenses
- Domestic Violence matters (domestic assault)
- Providing Alcohol to Minors Charges
- Fake ID Charges
- Violations of City Ordinances
- Small Claims Matters
- Preliminary Proceedings in Felonies or any Indictable Offense
Keep in mind that your initial legal consultation with Spodek Law Group is always free. If a guilty plea is in your better interests, we will say so, but in almost all circumstances we can get a lower penalty than a defendant can on their own. Never go to a court proceeding without legal representation. Give us a call today!
What Can I Expect in a New Jersey Municipal Court?
The judge presiding over a New Jersey Municipal Court will begin every court day with an opening statement that explains court procedures, defendants’ rights, and possible penalties in cases decided by the court. Cases will then be called and processed, usually in this order:
- Requests for postponements
- Motions that are uncontested
- Primary arraignments
- Those entering a guilty plea
- Motions being contested
- Not guilty pleas with an attorney
- Not guilty pleas by unrepresented parties
As each case gets called, the judge will advise every defendant of his or her rights. Then defendant then has three options:
- Request a postponement. The judge will often agree to reschedule the court date to give the defendant a chance to obtain representation by a hired lawyer or a public defender (if they qualify) and to prepare their defense.
If you know you will need your case postponed, speak with court staff before the judge begins the court session. A prosecutor or staff member frequently ask those seeking postponement to come forward before the judge enters the courtroom, so that postponements can be dispensed with right away.
- Plead guilty to the charge. The judge will ask questions about the offense to make certain there is a basis for the guilty plea and to make certain the plea is voluntary. The judge will then make a finding and hand down a sentence.
- Plead not guilty to the charge. The judge will preside over a trial, which could be held that day or rescheduled for another day at the court’s discretion.
A trial in municipal court is held before only the judge. This is known as a “bench trial.”
If you are found guilty, the judge imposes a sentence. You will need to pay all monetary penalties including fines and court costs. In some circumstances, the court might allow you to pay over time. The court staff will advise you of other penalties, including conditional discharge (probation), driver’s license suspension, community service, etc.
If you get sentenced to jail, the maximum term in municipal court matters is 6 months. The sentence is served in the County Jail or a Juvenile Detention Facility. The judge might allow a defendant to serve the sentence on weekends. Work release programs are coordinated through the Jail’s Work Release Administrator.
Never Go Before a N.J. Municipal Court Without a Lawyer
Being found guilty in a New Jersey Municipal Court can result in the loss of your freedom and financial hardship due to fines. It can greatly harm your prospects for employment or eligibility for government benefits. Don’t ever respond to a citation or go to court on your own. Schedule a free, no-obligation legal consultation with any of our respected New Jersey criminal defense attorneys right away.