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Do You Need an Attorney in Municipal Court?

municipal court attorney representationAbout 6 million of the 7 million cases that are heard each year in New Jersey courts are filed in Municipal Court. As the name would imply, these courts have limited jurisdiction; they usually involve violations that occurred within that municipality.

Classification of Crimes in New Jersey

You have probably heard the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor” when discussing serious and less serious crimes. In New Jersey, however, crimes are classified differently. More serious crimes are classified as indictable crimes; less serious crimes are called disorderly person offenses; and the least serious are called petty disorderly person offenses.

Municipal courts hear disorderly person offenses and petty disorderly person offenses. They also hear some less serious indictable crimes. When more serious crimes, such as auto theft or robbery, are filed in Municipal Court, the cases are usually sent to the Superior Court of that county.

Offenses Commonly Heard in Municipal Court

These are some of the offenses often filed in Municipal Court:

  • All traffic cases, including DUI/DWI
  • Shoplifting
  • Resisting arrest
  • Petty theft
  • Writing bad checks
  • Disorderly person
  • Drug possession
  • Driving while license is suspended or revoked
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Speeding
  • Juvenile offense

Penalties

If convicted, a person charged with a petty disorderly offense can be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500. Disorderly conduct and harassment are examples of this type of offense.

A person convicted of a disorderly offense can be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000. Shoplifting and resisting arrest are examples of this type of offense.

Indictable crimes are punishable by more than 6 months in jail.

The Need for Representation

While most people would not consider representing themselves when charged with a serious indictable crime, many are tempted to do so when facing a disorderly person or petty disorderly person charge.

If you are considering representing yourself in Municipal Court—whether your plan is to plead guilty or not guilty—you should think about discussing your case with an attorney before proceeding.

A conviction can have a negative impact on your life beyond the payment of a fine or even spending some time in jail.

Things to Keep in Mind

If you are unfamiliar with the court system, you may need help navigating the process. Remember that the court staff can assist you with the process, but they are prohibited from offering any legal advice. Without the assistance of an attorney to advise you, you will be on your own.

Accepting a plea may have a consequence of which you are unaware.

A third plea of guilty of unsafe driving, may result in 4 points. If you have already pled guilty to unsafe driving, it is probably advisable to discuss your case with a lawyer.

If the violation with which you are charged is associated with a car accident or other motor-vehicle accident, representation of an experienced attorney is recommended. This is due to the fact that a guilty plea can later be used against you if another party involved in the accident decides to file a civil lawsuit against you.

Expungement

Convictions and arrests—even when the charge is eventually dropped—can remain on your record. A knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney can help you expunge, or remove, the charge from your record.

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