More than likely, you will find yourself entangled in the court system at some point in your life. The odds are high that you will get a ticket if you drive, walk, or live in a municipality. Everyday activities, like parking your car to go grocery shopping, hurrying off late to work, or meeting a friend for drinks at the local pub, can all end up with a trip to municipal court for parking violations, speeding tickets, DWI charges, and disorderly persons offenses. These are unfortunate but common circumstances that drive numerous people daily through the more than 500 municipal courts in the state of New Jersey. However, for more serious offenses, like most white collar crimes, violent crimes and bodily injury, drug charges, and gun crimes, you are likely to pass through the doors of the Superior Court, where indictments and jury verdicts lead to harsher sentences than municipal court judgments.
What Happens in NJ Municipal Courts?
Municipal courts are where you pay or challenge your careless driving ticket, fight a DUI, or face county jail time for a disorderly persons charge, which is basically a criminal misdemeanor. In addition, municipal court judges pronounce judgment on offenses involving hunting and gaming violations, small claims, and municipal ordinance violations. The sentences in municipal court are limited to six months in jail and $1,000.00 in fines for a disorderly persons offense. But a judge can also impose other penalties in compliance with DUI or DWI laws and sentence defendants to community service, probation, and/or suspend their license. And while a defendant has rights to a trial and an attorney, they do not have the right to a jury trial. Instead, a municipal court judge decides cases.
In municipal court, many minor infractions like traffic tickets are resolved by paying a fine without a court appearance. The ticket will state whether the accused must appear in court or not and the specific violations’ fines that some defendants can pay without a hearing. Even if the ticket does not require an appearance, an accused may get their day in court by requesting a hearing. Certain matters require a hearing no matter what, even technical motor vehicle violations like driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs offenses.
Many victims of domestic violence also start their journey to getting a protective order in municipal court. They contact a municipal court judge when they need emergency assistance with a temporary restraining order to keep a spouse, partner, or other intimate relation from harming them. However, they can also petition the superior court.
What Happens in Criminal Cases in County Superior Court?
In a superior court, a defendant has the right to a jury trial. All 21 county Superior Courts in New Jersey handle indictable crimes, from fourth degree shoplifting to first degree murder. In addition, they handle family court matters, including particular criminal matters, like contempt for restraining order violations in domestic violence cases and juvenile court cases. Superior Court judges also hear civil suits and municipal court judgment appeals in various divisions based on the type of case. So, if you believe the municipal court judge made errors in your disorderly conduct trial, you can hire a criminal appeals attorney to challenge the decision in Superior Court. And if you wish to appeal a Superior Court case decision, you can petition the Appellate Court to review the case. From there, Appellate Court decision reviews occur in New Jersey’s Supreme Court.
Superior Court cases begin with a criminal complaint describing the charges against a defendant. The County Prosecutor’s Office represents the state and reviews police evidence, and other evidence gathered to convict a defendant. A prosecutor assigned to a case decides whether to pursue the charges and send the proof to a grand jury for indictment or reduce the criminal charges and send the case to municipal court. They may also dismiss a complaint if they believe the evidence is insufficient to convict a defendant. The case proceeds to trial if the grand jury delivers an indictment, with several hearings between arrest, detention, arraignment, pre-indictment conference, pre-trial conferences, and trial.
If the defendant, typically through counsel, and the prosecutor have not reached a plea bargain and the case is not otherwise resolved by way of a diversion like Pre-Trial Intervention or Drug Court, probation, or another alternative, the court impanels a jury for trial, and a trial follows. The jury renders a guilty or not guilty verdict, and later, the judge sentences the defendant based on the criminal circumstances, law, and defendant’s individual situation. Both sides of the case get to argue aggravating and mitigating factors that weigh for or against the severity of the sentence in a defendant’s case.
How an Attorney can Help if You have been Charged with a Criminal or Traffic Offense in NJ
If the police arrested you or issued you a complaint summons accusing you of an offense anywhere in New Jersey, be sure to retain counsel to appear with you in court. Regardless of how you get to Municipal Court or Superior Court to resolve your case, you want legal representation. Although Municipal Court sentences are less severe than Superior Court sentences, they can still cause significant damage to your life, even for a lifetime. DUI convictions are permanent scars on your driving record and criminal convictions can restrict your employment, educational, and housing opportunities, even destroy your lifelong plans for employment in certain fields.
Finding the best Municipal Court or Superior Court criminal defense attorney is the wisest strategy to not only survive the consequences of criminal charges, but more importantly, preserve your constitutional rights in the criminal process. You are innocent until proven guilty. Your attorney can protect you from unfair treatment by the state, presuming and treating you as if you are guilty before having proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Find a Local NJ Defense Lawyer to Handle Your Case
Charged with a criminal or traffic offense in NJ? Hire the attorney with the most knowledge and experience in the law and the court governing your case. Wherever you reside, you want to find an attorney who deals with the Municipal Court or Superior Court judges and prosecutors in the location where your case occurred. Before you must appear, sit down with your attorney, tell them what you were doing when arrested or charged, and how the police handled the arrest.
Disclose all information you can recall as your defense lawyer needs to know the details of what happened. What you may not think is necessary may be critical for your defense. Have your attorney explain the entirety of the court process and what you can expect. Be sure to hire someone you can trust, feel comfortable with, and know has the background and track record to handle your case. Contact 973-524-7238 if you would like to talk to a New Jersey criminal defense attorney about your case free of charge.