Wednesday, May 13, 2015
What happens in the typical NJ Municipal Court criminal and Traffic Ticket case in NJ?
What happens in the typical NJ Municipal Court criminal and Traffic Ticket case in NJ?
After you have retained [paid] the attorney, your attorney will prepare a letter of representation to the court and a demand for discovery to the Prosecutor.
After you have retained [paid] your attorney, call the court, plead not guilty and give the court the name of your attorney and confirm the address they have for you is correct. The date on the initial complaint or ticket is the first appearance date. If you hire and attorney and a letter of rep is sent, you do not need to appear for the first appearance/ arraignment. If you will be taking a vacation or business trip during the next two months, advise the court and provide them with written details of the trip. The court does not accept email. All communications are hard copy via US Mail.
In traffic matters, we highly recommend you contact DMV, now Motor Vehicle Commission, and obtain a driver's license abstract. 888-486-3339 or 609-292-6500. This will help you when we go to court.
The court schedule a hearing date and will mail a computer notice to you and your attorney. Our law office will mail a letter to our clients to remind them of the hearing date.
You are reminded that every time you go to Court or come to our office, you should bring your entire file with all documents and letters you have, plus everything received from our office, the Court, police, or DMV/MVC applicable to your case.
We as your attorney may file certain motions applicable to your case. We will mail you copies.
Police Records/ Discovery
When we receive police reports, we copy and mail to clients. For State Police sometimes this takes 5 weeks. Please read the police records, which are called Discovery from the Prosecutor. Please write down any inaccurate statements or comments and mail them back to me. Please reference the page and paragraph of the inaccurate details. Do not call the office to indicate the inaccurate details. Keep the portions of Discovery that are correct.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty, the judge at the time of sentencing always has several options including but not limited to jail, probation, community service, restitution and substance abuse counseling. Please prepare and mail to my office a list of 15 reasons why the judge should not impose the maximum penalties or fines within 10 days of receiving this letter.
The judge will also review any letters or documents that are submitted to the Court on your behalf. For clients that have multiple prior violations, we recommend very strongly that you obtain letters from relatives or other individuals who know you who would be willing to write to the Court to indicate that there should not be incarceration. These letters should set forth favorable aspects regarding your life and your future. They should point out some of the good traits that you possess. They should also feel free to put any other reasons why the Court should impose the minimum penalties. Bring these letters to the court. These letters are for your benefit and these instructions should be followed.
If the Court is going to suspend your driver's license, you should get a ride to court since the judge will confiscate your license. Most Judges will no longer issue a temporary license to drive home and require you to surrender your license to the court. Obtain alternate ID. If you have any questions, please contact my office.
We recommend to clients that have alcohol or drug charges to obtain Substance Abuse Treatment and attend AA or related meetings. You should keep a detailed record of every event and meeting you attend and try to obtain proof of this attendance. Make two (2) photocopies of this documentation and bring it to court with you to give to the Prosecutor and Judge. As always, be sure to bring your entire file with you any time you come to court
What Happens on Your Day in Court?
It is very important that you arrive in court on the day and time stated on your ticket, summons, subpoena, or court notice. In addition to bringing your file, we recommend that you bring a magazine or some light reading because the courts often take recesses and delays often occur. The court will not permit you to use your cell phone inside the courtroom, even for email. When you arrive, please check in. Hearing times are often delayed. If by chance, I or the attorney in my office handling the hearing is not at the hearing room when you arrive, please do not panic. We will soon arrive to handle the case. We often travel from another court. Do not call the law office if you do not see the attorney right away unless there is an emergency.
Usually we will go to speak directly with the Prosecutor or Court Clerk prior to going into the courtroom. Please sit in the courtroom/hearing room close to the front row until we arrive. Do not wait in the lobby or outside. In municipal court/traffic cases, do not speak with the Prosecutor, wait for your attorney to arrive. Do not leave the court and go home until instructed by our office. If you will have to pay court costs or a fine, bring a checkbook or cash. Most towns and state agencies still do not accept credit cards.
If you arrive late, or if your name is not called, you should notify court personnel immediately.
If the defendant does not appear, the judge will advise all witnesses when they may leave. A warrant will be issued for the defendant who fails to appear, and his/her driving privileges may be suspended.
All municipal court proceedings are tape recorded. Therefore, it is necessary for everyone in the courtroom to remain quiet until it is their turn to speak. The length of time you will be in court depends on many things. Some cases take longer than others. Please be patient so that the court may give each case the time and attention it deserves.
At the beginning of the court session, the judge will give an opening statement, explaining court procedures, defendants’ rights, and penalties. As each case is called, the judge will individually advise each defendant of his/her rights. A case may be postponed to permit the defendant to hire a lawyer. Source http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/somerset/questions.htm
If the defendant rejects the plea offer by the prosecutor, and all involved parties are present and prepared, the case will proceed to trial at the end of the court session. Once the judge has heard the testimony, he/she will decide if the defendant is guilty, not guilty, or if the case should be dismissed. If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty after a trial, the judge will impose a sentence. Source: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/somerset/questions.htm
In What Order Are Cases Called?
The order in which cases are called is controlled by the New Jersey Court Rules. Cases are generally called in the following order:
1. Requests for postponements.
2. Arraignments (Advising defendants of rights/penalties).
3. Guilty pleas: Where defendant is represented by an attorney.
4. Where defendant is not represented by an attorney.
5. Not guilty pleas trials: Where defendant is represented by an attorney.
6. Where defendant is not represented by an attorney [these go last]
Who Are the People Involved?
The Complainant: The complainant is the person who signed the complaint (may be a private citizen or police officer). The complainant is a witness for the state and will generally be given an opportunity to speak with the municipal prosecutor about the case. Once a complaint has been filed, it cannot be withdrawn and it generally cannot be dismissed without the consent of the prosecutor.
The Defendant: The defendant is the person formally accused of the violation. The defendant will be informed of the charges, possible penalties, and his/her right to an attorney. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is always on the state. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed each part of the offense charged. The defendant has the right to testify or not testify.
The Victim: If there is a trial, the victim may be called as a witness. If the defendant pleads guilty, no trial is needed but the victim has the right to address the court before the judge decides what sentence to impose.
The Prosecutor: The prosecutor is the lawyer hired by the municipality to represent the State.
The Public Defender: The public defender is the lawyer hired by the municipality to represent those defendants who cannot afford their own attorney.
The Defense Attorney: The Defense Attorney is the lawyer the defendant hires to represent him/her. http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/somerset/questions.htm
What Is a Plea Agreement?
The New Jersey Supreme Court allows plea agreements to be made within the Municipal Courts except in drunk driving and certain drug related cases. A plea agreement is an agreement between the defendant and the prosecutor about how the case will be resolved. In exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecutor may amend the charge to one that is less serious or that may result in fewer points on one's license. Certain charges may be dismissed or a specific sentence may be recommended.
http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/somerset/questions.htm If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge will ask questions regarding the offense charged to make sure there is a basis for the guilty plea.
What happens at Trial if you reject the plea offer?
You must have your witnesses present in court on the day of trial. If they will not come to court voluntarily, your attorney can prepare subpoenas to require them to appear in court. Written statements of witnesses are not allowed to be presented --- the person must appear in court.
First, the prosecutor calls each of the state's witnesses and asks them questions. You will have a chance to ask them questions too (to cross-examine them). After the prosecutor has called all of the state's witnesses, you have the opportunity to make a statement under oath (to testify) on your own behalf and to call any witnesses you may have. You have a constitutional right to remain silent --- the decision about whether to testify is yours. If you do testify, the prosecutor can ask you questions and may also ask questions of your witnesses. http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/somerset/questions.htm
What Are the Possible Penalties?
Fines: The judge must follow the law in deciding the amount of any fine imposed. Sometimes there are minimum penalties and mandatory assessments that must be imposed by law. Fines are generally expected to be paid at the time they are imposed.
The judge may allow the fine to be paid in installments if the judge is satisfied that payment cannot be made in full. You may apply for partial payments by filling out a form. The judge will then make a decision about your payment arrangements. You will sign a court order that will explain the terms of your payments. Failure to comply with this order can result in a warrant for your arrest and/or suspension of your driving privileges.
Jail: The maximum jail term that can be imposed for offenses heard in the municipal court is six months. The sentence is served at the Somerset/Hunterdon/Warren County Jail. The judge may allow a defendant to serve the sentence on weekends. Work release is coordinated through the jail's work release administrator.
Juveniles sentenced to jail by the municipal court in traffic cases serve their sentence at the County's Juvenile Detention Facility.
License Suspension: Many offenses require suspensions for a minimum period. You cannot drive for any reason until the period of suspension ends, you have paid your restoration fee, and have received written notification from the Division of Motor Vehicles that your driving privileges have been restored. If your license has been suspended for failure to appear, pay fines, or comply with a condition of your sentence, it generally will not be restored until your case is completed. Conditional or special work licenses are not allowed in New Jersey.
Community Service: By law, the judge must order community service for certain traffic and shoplifting offenses and may order community service for a criminal conviction. The defendant must work for a municipality or non-profit organization for a certain period of time, without compensation. Failure to perform community service may result in the case being returned to court.
Other Related Penalties: In addition to penalties imposed by the court for traffic violations, defendants may also receive points on their driving records, auto insurance surcharges, or may be required to pay restoration and administrative fees. Out of state motorists should check with their state's Motor Vehicle Agency regarding the impact of a New Jersey traffic violation on their driving privileges.
What Is a Conditional Discharge?
This procedure allows defendants charged with certain drug offenses to make a Motion for the charges to be held up for a year and to be under court supervision for a period of time determined by the court. The Judge may require the defendant to get drug counseling, have random drug tests, to attend narcotics anonymous meetings, or may place other conditions on probation (this is called supervisory treatment). To be eligible, a defendant must have:
▪ Never been convicted of a drug offense in any State or Federal Court
▪ Never been granted a conditional discharge before
▪ Never received Pre-Trial Intervention or Pre-Trial Diversion in any State or Federal Court
The judge ultimately determines who is eligible for a conditional discharge. If granted a conditional discharge, the defendant must pay mandatory assessments and the judge may suspend his/her driving privileges. If during the period of supervisory treatment no additional offenses have been committed, and there is compliance with all conditions (including satisfying all financial obligations), the defendant will be scheduled for a court hearing at which time the charges will be dismissed. If new offenses have been committed during this period, the defendant may be tried on the original charges and the new offenses. Source http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/somerset/questions.htm
To Whom Is Bail Returned?
Bail is money required to be deposited with the court to release the defendant and assure the defendant's future appearance in court. Bail can only be returned to the person who posted it. Bail will not be returned until the case is concluded. The bail receipt should be brought to the court to speed the return of bail. It may be possible to have the bail applied to any fines or assessments that may be imposed by the court if the holder of the bail agrees.
Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC): If convicted of DWI or refusal to take a Alcotest breath machine, the court must order attendance at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, where the defendant must satisfy the screening, evaluation, referral, program, and fee requirements. Failure to comply with the IDRC guidelines will result in further court action.
Who Is Entitled to the Public Defender?
A defendant is only entitled to be represented by the public defender when:
▪ The charge presents a risk of the defendant going to jail, losing driving privileges, or receiving a substantial fine.
▪ The court determines that the defendant is indigent [ex- on welfare, permanently disabled, etc] The judge may require the defendant to bring in proof of income or employment (tax returns, pay stubs), and may verify the information.