Most people in New Jersey who have experience with the court system gain that experience through the Municipal Courts. Municipal Courts typically have jurisdiction over offenses that occur within the township where the court resides. A few have regional courts that handle complaints from several townships. Municipal courts have a limited jurisdiction and only hear certain types of cases. Driving infractions, parking tickets, municipal ordinance violations, disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses are all heard in municipal court. Some felony crimes start out as complaints in municipal court and are referred up to the prosecutor
Many people make the assumption that since their matter is being heard in municipal court, the matter must not be all that serious. This could not be further from the truth. Disorderly persons offenses, for example, can result in up to six months in jail as well as a $1,000.00 fine. Petty disorderly persons offenses could result in up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $500. Both will also result in a criminal record which could affect your ability to get a job or even prevent you from obtaining financial aid for school. You may also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim. Just a violation of a municipal ordinance can sometimes result in fines in excess of $1,000.00.
Many offenses heard in municipal court can also result in suspension of your driving privileges. While it is not nearly as severe as a jail sentence, it is a much more common sentence in municipal court and can range anywhere from a month to 10 years depending on the offense. To many people a driver's license suspension can have a devastating impact, affecting their ability to commute to work or school, care for their children, or even run simple household errands.
While everyone knows that DWI will result in a license suspension, there are a whole host of lesser known offenses which can have the same devastating impact. Just a few examples are: underage drinking, driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance, most drug offenses, and even talking on a cell phone while driving. Even such common offenses as speeding, which carry insurance points, can result in a license suspension if the person has too many points on their license already.
Lastly, if you were issued a ticket because you were involved in a traffic accident which caused property damage or bodily injury, your guilty plea could result in civil liability as well. While there are ways of avoiding this, the civil liability can make your fines and court costs look like pocket change in comparison.
If you are charged with an offense before a municipal court, don’t assume that you can simply talk to the prosecutor, pay a small fine and walk away. Call my office at (732) 742-5556 and find out what potential penalties you are facing first. As always, I never charge for a first consultation.