Municipal Charges and Traffic Offenses
Most New Jersey residents will never be charged with criminal activity. The vast majority of those charged with some sort of criminal offense will have their cases adjudicated in a municipal court in the township, borough or village where the offense allegedly occurred.
Municipal court matters are typically adjudicated very quickly, with most matters resolved in just one appearance. However, defendants still have the same rights in municipal court criminal matters as they would have if their case was pending in the New Jersey Superior Court. Thus, discovery must be requested and reviewed. Further, while there are no jury trials in municipal court, a municipal defendant has the right to a bench trial before the municipal court judge.
A case can sometimes start in the Superior Court, but is then “downgraded” to a municipal court. This inevitably improves the defendant’s position in the case, since the maximum offense of conviction is a disorderly persons offense, and the maximum penalties a municipal judge can impose is a period of months in a county jail and payment of fines. In practice, jail sentences in municipal cases are rarely imposed. Additionally, the New Jersey statute governing expungements was recently amended to create an expedited expungement procedure for certain municipal cases. Eligible defendants can now have the record of their municipal matter expunged in a substantially shorter period of time than what was available under prior law. A skilled municipal court defense attorney will be aware of these issues.Municipal Courts Typically Hear Three Kinds of Cases
Minor criminal offenses and local ordinance violations – These cases include such things as charges involving the possession of small quantities of drugs and relatively minor assault charges. They can also include activities like playing music so loudly that it creates a public nuisance, or drinking or urinating in public. Disputes between neighbors can also be adjudicated in municipal court. Some courts have neighborhood dispute panels that resolve such matters through mediation. Municipal courts also hear cases involving code violations.
Many small-quantity drug cases heard in municipal court can be resolved with the defendant’s admission into a diversionary program known as a conditional discharge. This program, which is generally available to someone with little to no prior history, will leave the defendant without a criminal record if they complete the program successfully.
Driving While Intoxicated/Driving Under the Influence – These cases are a staple of New Jersey municipal courts. Some states criminalize DWI/DUI, and even allow for jury trials in these matters. In New Jersey, however, these are considered vehicle and traffic offenses. Unlike many such offenses, DWI/DUI cases can be very technical, and require an understanding of field test procedures and breath tests. A New Jersey driving while intoxicated attorney will understand these matter, as well as how they can used to the client’s advantage in resolving the case.
Other vehicle and traffic offenses – The New Jersey motor vehicle code contains an absolutely staggering array of vehicle and traffic offenses. Most clients with traffic summonses are, however, concerned only with two issues: points and fines. Many New Jersey drivers who have received a traffic summons are unaware of the fact that it is sometimes possible to obtain a downgrade to a lower-level offense with reduced penalties. Whether this is available in a particular case is a function of, among other things, the driver’s abstract and prior record. Only an experienced New Jersey traffic offense lawyer can tell you what kind of downgrade (if any) is available to you.
New Jersey municipal courts have their own unique rules and procedures. These courts also vary greatly in how they are managed. If you must appear in a municipal court, do not go alone. Rather, consult with and retain an experienced municipal court lawyer in New Jersey who can protect your rights and reduce your exposure to the fullest extent possible.
We are municipal court defense attorneys who represent clients in all municipal courts throughout the State. If you have a minor criminal matter, DWI or traffic summons, contact us immediately to discuss your options.