For most people exposure to New Jersey’s municipal courts is the first, and sometimes the only, experience with our legal system. Your understanding and navigation of the process is crtical to how you will view your experience there.
Some states have the misdemanor (less serious) and felony (more serious) system to define criminal offenses. New Jersey uses different terms with similar meanings: non-indictable and indictable. If the offense is of the latter (indictable) your matter is handled at the Superior Court level. Future blogs will talk about these alleged offenses. Non-indictable matters are handled at the Municipal Court level. Think of these courts as your “town courts” or “local courts”.
Municipal Courts in New Jersey are empowered to handle all types of alleged offenses. Some are criminal or quasi-criminal: domestic violence, disorderly person assault cases, drug offenses and driving while intoxicated. Others are not criminal: speeding, careless or reckless driving, violations of licensing, registration or insurance laws and other motor vehicle moving violations.
There is a tendency to believe that these matters in the municipal courts can be handled without a lawyer in order to save legal fees. From the outset let me tell you that this is a big MISTAKE. The legal fees that you certainly will save will be spent, in other ways, as you mishandle your case. Let me tell you some of the little known truths about municipal courts:
1) Those with attorneys are usually treated better than those without because attorneys serve as “buffers” between you and the prosecutor and the police.
2) Attorneys can say things to the prosecutor and police in a way that you cannot because you are the accused and shouldn’t be saying anything at all.
3) Attorneys can advance real legal arguments to the prosecutor as oppossed to those who “just wanna break”.
4) Prosecutors and police “lick their chops” when someone tries to handle their own case. The same is not true when someone is represented by a lawyer.
5) You are entitled to speak with the prosecutor and sometimes the police, but they don’t have to offer you a deal or if they do, it may not be as good as the guy before you who had a lawyer.