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Municipal Courts in New Jersey
If you are arrested for a crime in New Jersey, your “day in court” will most likely involve a municipal court in the city, town or township where you were arrested. A municipal court usually has jurisdiction over cases that occur within the boundaries of its municipality.
The New Jersey municipal courts handle traffic and parking tickets, minor criminal offenses (for example, simple assault and bad checks), municipal ordinances (for example, barking dog or building code violations) and other offenses, such as fishing and hunting violations. However, many serious criminal cases, such as robbery, auto theft or assault, start out as complaints filed in the municipal court before being transferred to the county’s superior court.
Regardless of the perceived seriousness of the crime a person is charge with, anyone facing a hearing in a New Jersey municipal court should have experienced legal representation at their side. Even disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey, among the lowest-level violations of state law, carry penalties of up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $1,000. A conviction will also show on a criminal background check conducted if you apply for a job, college loans or scholarships, public benefits, etc.
Below, the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall provide an overview of the New Jersey municipal courts system. Our team of attorneys includes former prosecutors and public defenders with decades of experience in New Jersey municipal courts, as well as higher courts.
If you or a loved one have been arrested or ticketed in New Jersey and ordered to appear in municipal court, call us now at one of our nine N.J offices, day or night, including on weekends. Our attorneys can step in promptly to protect your rights and work to avoid or reduce the penalties you may face.
What Is a New Jersey Municipal Court?
Most New Jersey citizens come into contact with the judicial system through the Municipal Court system, either as a defendant, a victim or a witness. Municipal courts sit in some cities and larger towns, and usually have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases arising within the municipality.
More serious offenses, known as indictable offenses, are sent from the municipal court to the county prosecutor’s office. The county prosecutor will decide whether to present the case to a Grand Jury or to return it to the municipal court as a less serious offense. A case that goes to a Grand Jury usually results in indictment, a criminal charge heard in the New Jersey Superior Court system.
Cases heard in municipal court are divided into four general categories:
- Violations of motor vehicle and traffic laws
- Violations of disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses (criminal matters which may result in fines or jail)
- Violations of municipal ordinances (local laws)
- Violations of regulations of the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Parks and Forestry, Office of Weights and Measures, and boating and animal cruelty (SPCA) regulations
A court appearance is always required in criminal matters, such as an assault, shoplifting, harassment or simple drug possession charge. However, for most non-criminal matters, such as traffic, boating and Fish and Wildlife violations, a fine can be paid through the mail or at the court office.
If the “Court Appearance Required” box has not been checked on the complaint, or if the charge is listed on either the Statewide Violations Bureau Schedule or the Local Violations Bureau Schedule, you may pay the fine without appearing in court.
But in some traffic or other matters, “Court Appearance Required” will be checked on the ticket, which means you must appear in court at the time and place indicated, even if you wish to plead guilty.
If “Court Appearance Required” is not checked on a traffic ticket, you must still appear in court if:
- You want to have a trial (do not want to plead guilty and pay a fine).
- The charge is not listed on the Statewide Violations Schedule.
- Personal injury is involved (for example, you have been charged in a car accident).
What Cases Are Heard in N.J. Municipal Courts?
Regardless of the charge, a defendant deserves and has a Constitutional right to a legal defense that seeks the best available outcome for the individual charged.
Our attorneys can represent you in New Jersey Municipal Court anywhere in the state to protect your rights and to help resolve the case brought against you in a manner that is as beneficial to you as possible.
Contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall for assistance with:
- Traffic Tickets
- Misdemeanor Offenses / Disorderly Persons Offenses
- Disorderly Conduct Charges
- Domestic Violence Cases (domestic assault)
- Providing Alcohol to Minors
- Use of Fake IDs
- City Ordinance Violations
- Small Claims Cases
- Preliminary Proceedings in Felonies / Indictable Offenses
Remember, an initial legal consultation with the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall is always free. If a guilty plea is in your best interests, we will tell you so, but in almost all cases we can obtain a lesser penalty than a defendant can on their own. Never go to court without legal representation. Call us for advice today.
What Happens in a New Jersey Municipal Court?
The judge presiding over a New Jersey Municipal Court will start each day with an opening statement that explains court procedures, defendants’ rights, and potential penalties in cases decided by the court. Then cases will be called and processed, usually in the following order:
- Requests for postponements
- Uncontested motions
- First arraignments
- Guilty pleas
- Contested motions
- Pleas of not guilty with an attorney
- Pleas of not guilty without an attorney
As each case is called, the judge will advise each defendant of his or her rights. Then defendant then has three choices:
- Ask for a postponement. The judge will likely agree to reschedule the court date to give the defendant time to obtain representation by a private attorney or by a public defender (if they qualify) and to prepare their defense.
If you know you need to have your case postponed talk to court staff before the judge begins the court session. A prosecutor or staff member will likely ask those seeking postponement to come forward before the judge enters the courtroom, so that postponements can be dealt with right away.
- Plead guilty. If a defendant pleads guilty, the judge will ask questions about the offense charged to make sure there is a basis for the guilty plea and to make sure the plea is voluntary. The judge will then make a finding and impose a sentence.
- Plead not guilty. If a defendant pleads not guilty, the judge will preside over a trial, which may be held that day or may be rescheduled for another day in some circumstances.
A trial in a municipal court (after a “not guilty” plea) is held before only the judge, which is known as a “bench trial.”
In a trial, the prosecutor goes first and calls the state’s witnesses against the defendant. This will include the law enforcement officer who made the arrest or issued the citation, and others who can corroborate the state’s case. They will answer the prosecutor’s questions and present any additional evidence they have. When the prosecutor is finished with each witness, the defendant, or their attorney, may ask them questions about their testimony and/or evidence.
When the prosecutor has finished presenting their case, the defendant may call witnesses and present evidence. If you are the defendant, you have the right to testify but are not required to do so. If you testify, the prosecutor can ask you questions or cross-examine you. The prosecutor may cross-examine anyone who testifies for the defendant.
After all witnesses and evidence have been presented, the judge will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty.
If you are found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence. You will be required to pay all monetary penalties (fines and court costs). Under certain circumstances, the court may allow you to pay over time. The court staff will advise you about other penalties, such as conditional discharge (probation), suspension of your driver’s license, community service, etc.
If you are sentenced to jail, the maximum term available for offenses heard in municipal court is 6 months. The sentence is served at the County Jail or the County’s Juvenile Detention Facility. The judge may allow a defendant to serve the sentence on weekends. Work release is coordinated through the Jail’s Work Release Administrator.
Mediation and Appealing a N.J. Municipal Court Decision
If the charge against you involves harm to another person, you may be required to participate in a discussion with a mediator to attempt to settle the dispute without going in front of the judge. You may request mediation before going to court, and the court will decide whether your case is eligible.
If you go to trial and do not agree with the municipal court’s decision, you may appeal to the county superior court. This is not a new trial. The superior court will review the transcript of the municipal court trial and the judge’s decision, and will reverse the decision only if there has been a mistake made regarding the facts or application of the law.
An appeal must be filed within 20 days of the municipal court decision. It requires a filing fee and deposit for preparation of the trail transcript.
Upon request, the Court Administrator will provide the necessary forms to appeal the municipal court’s decision. The defendant may request that his or her penalty be “stayed,” or set aside, pending the outcome of their appeal. The judge will decide whether to do so.
RULE FOR SUPPRESSION MOTIONS IN MUNICIPAL COURT
7:5-2. Motion to Suppress Evidence
(a) Jurisdiction. The municipal court shall entertain motions to suppress evidence seized without a warrant in matters within its trial jurisdiction on notice to the prosecuting attorney and, if the county prosecutor is not the prosecuting attorney, also to the county prosecutor. A motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a warrant and motions to suppress evidence seized without a warrant, but in matters beyond the trial jurisdiction of the municipal court, shall be made and heard in the Superior Court.
(b) Procedure. Written briefs in support of and opposition to the motion to suppress shall be filed only in the discretion of the judge, who shall determine the briefing schedule, if briefs are permitted. All motions to suppress shall be heard before the start of the trial.
(c) Order; Stay.
(1) Order Granting Suppression. An order granting a motion to suppress evidence shall be entered immediately upon decision of the motion. Within ten days after its entry, the municipal court administrator shall provide a copy of the order to all parties and, if the county prosecutor is not the prosecuting attorney, also to the county prosecutor. All further proceedings in the municipal court shall be stayed pending a timely appeal by the State, pursuant to R. 3:24. The property that is the subject of the suppression order shall, if not otherwise subject to lawful detention, be returned to the person entitled to it only after exhaustion by the State of its right to appeal.
(2) Order Denying Suppression. An order denying suppression may be reviewed on appeal from an ensuing judgment of conviction pursuant to R. 3:23 whether the judgment was entered on a guilty plea or on a finding of guilt following trial.
(d) Waiver. Unless otherwise ordered by the court for good cause, defendant’s failure to make a pretrial motion to the municipal court pursuant to this rule shall constitute a waiver of any objection during trial to the admission of the evidence on the ground that the evidence was unlawfully obtained.
Do Not Face a N.J. Municipal Court on Your Own
Being found guilty in a New Jersey Municipal Court can cause the loss of your freedom and money paid for fines, and can damage prospects for employment or eligibility for government benefits. Never respond to a citation or go to court on your own. Schedule a free, no-obligation legal consultation with one of our respected New Jersey criminal defense attorneys today.