What to Expect in Municipal Court in New Jersey
Have to go to Municipal Court in NJ?
The majority of people arrested in New Jersey will receive a summons noting a court appearance date in the local municipal court in the town, city, or township where the arrest occurred. If have been scheduled to appear in NJ Municipal Court for criminal charges, you need to know what to expect when your day in court arrives. Continue reading to learn more about what happens in municipal court in New Jersey. To find answers to your specific questions about an upcoming case in municipal court, call our experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm today. Our lawyers appear in municipal courts across New Jersey on a weekly basis protecting the rights of clients and fighting for the best possible results. Call us anytime for a free consultation and get immediate assistance with your ticket or charge.
What is a Municipal Court in New Jersey?
The New Jersey municipal courts have limited jurisdiction over cases involving disorderly persons (misdemeanor) offenses, traffic infractions, municipal ordinance violations, and fishing and gaming violations that occur within their geographical limits. Municipal courts do not hear cases involving more serious crimes, known as indictable offenses or felonies, in New Jersey. These more serious charges are handled by the county prosecutor’s office in the criminal division of the applicable county superior court. Notably, some cases that are initially transferred to superior court are subsequently remanded, or sent back down to the municipal court, for adjudication. This usually occurs when the prosecutor’s office agrees to downgrade the charges or decides there is insufficient evidence to proceed to a grand jury.
What Cases are Heard in New Jersey Municipal Court?
There are several distinct types of cases that are heard in NJ municipal court, including: motor vehicle violations; disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses (low-level criminal offenses); municipal (city) ordinance violations; and regulatory violations related to fish and wildlife, parks and forestry, boating, animal cruelty, and weights and measures.
If you receive a traffic ticket or complaint for an offense that does not specifically check the box next to “court appearance required,” you can typically pay a fine at the court office, send a check in the mail, or pay the ticket online. Criminal offenses and many motor vehicle violations such as DWI, will require you to appear in municipal court to face the charges.
Some of the most common tickets and charges handled in municipal court are as follows:
- Simple Assault (including domestic violence simple assault)
- Disorderly Conduct
- Marijuana Possession (only less than 50 grams)
- Shoplifting (merchandise must be valued at less than $200)
- Drug Paraphernalia
- Having a Fake ID
- DWI and DUI
- Possession of CDS in a Motor Vehicle
What are the Possible Penalties in NJ Municipal Court?
The specific penalties you face in municipal court are contingent upon the offense or offenses you have been issued complaints for. Criminal and some traffic offenses in municipal court may result in suspension of your driver’s license, up to 6 months in jail, fines of up $1,000, court costs and fees, community service, probation, random drug testing, alcohol education programs, and other serious consequences. When you are convicted of a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense in municipal court, this will result in a criminal record that will appear on a criminal background check. Even an arrest resulting in a dismissal will go on your criminal record and can only be removed through the process of expungement. Obviously, a criminal record can pose a significant hindrance when seeking jobs, college admission, scholarships, loans, and other opportunities. If convicted of a petty or disorderly persons offense, you must wait 5 years to apply to expunge it from your record.
What Happens in New Jersey Municipal Court?
The court date listed on your complaint if known as your “first appearance” in municipal court. At this court hearing, the judge will explain court procedures, advise you of your rights (including the right to an attorney), explain the penalties you face if convicted, and give you several options for how to proceed. At your first appearance in municipal court you can decide to:
- Plead guilty. The judge will make sure you understand what it means to submit a guilty plea and that you have not been coerced into doing so, after which they will make a ruling and sentence you.
- Plead not guilty. Your case will either proceed to trial immediately on the date of your first appearance or be scheduled for a later date if necessary.
- Request an adjournment. Basically, this means the judge will reschedule your court date to provide you with time to hire a criminal defense lawyer or apply for a public defender. This will give you and your attorney time to request the evidence against you (discovery) and develop a defense strategy to address the allegations.
After your first appearance, you may have one or numerous additional court dates. When handled by an experienced municipal court lawyer, your case may involve motions to suppress evidence, other motions regarding your rights (such as a right to a speedy trial), negotiations with the municipal prosecutor, and possibly a trial.
In a trial in municipal court, you are not entitled to have your case heard by a jury. The presiding judge will hear your case, make a ruling, and if convicted, impose a sentence. The prosecutor will attempt to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt using evidence and witness testimony. You have the right to cross-examine any witnesses called by the prosecutor and ask your own questions. Your attorney can also call witnesses to testify on your behalf and present evidence that supports your innocence. You have the right, but are not obligated, to testify during your trial. Keep in mind that by giving testimony, you open yourself up to cross-examination by the prosecutor.
Once the prosecutor and defense counsel have presented their cases, it is up to the judge to rule. The potential outcomes are relatively simple: a finding of “guilty” or “not guilty.” If you are found guilty (convicted), you will be sentenced at the discretion of the judge. It is important to note that some charges provide more leeway when it comes to sentencing than others. For instance, the judge cannot reduce the sentence mandated for a DWI offense under New Jersey law. Other charges provide more opportunity for the judge to lessen your sentence based on the nature of the offense, your criminal history (or lack thereof), and other mitigating factors.
Need a Lawyer for Municipal Court in New Jersey
If you have been charged with an offense and have an upcoming court date in Municipal Court, you should not risk the consequences of going to court alone. Finding out your rights and how to best defend your criminal or drunk driving charges is vital to protect your future. Call the experienced New Jersey Municipal Court Defense Lawyers at our firm today at (201)-556-1570 for a cost-free, entirely confidential consultation. The help you need is just a phone call away.