If you’re facing a municipal court case in New Jersey, especially if it’s your first experience, you might be worried or uncertain about what to anticipate and the best way to ready yourself so that you can present your case effectively.

How Cases Are Handled in New Jersey Municipal Courts

New Jersey’s municipal courts handle a variety of different types of cases from minor traffic violations to certain criminal charges. Knowing what to expect from the process and preparing for your court appearance ahead of time will not only help to ease your mind, but it will also equip you to achieve a better outcome in your case. At Bronzino Law Firm, our criminal defense lawyers are readily equipped to help you prepare and thoughtfully navigate the municipal court system if you have been charged with a disorderly persons offense, petty disorderly persons offense, or traffic violation. With local offices in Brick and Sea Girt, we frequently appear on behalf of clients in Ocean and Monmouth County Municipal Courts such as Brick and Sea Girt. Contact us online or by calling (732) 812-3102  for a free consultation.

Who Gets Summoned to Municipal Court in NJ?

There are certain offenses involving the criminal and motor vehicle code that can lead to an upcoming appearance in municipal court in New Jersey. Municipal court cases primarily consist of traffic violations, minor criminal charges, and local ordinance violations, with speeding tickets, parking violations, and driving under the influence (DUI) charges being some of the most common cases heard. Other traffic violation cases heard in municipal court can include texting while driving, driving with a suspended license, seatbelt violations, driving with expired registration, or running a red light.

Criminal offenses heard in municipal court include non-indictable offenses like disorderly conduct, petty theft, and simple assault. Local ordinance violations handled in municipal court may include things like noise complaints, health and safety violations, zoning violations, or swimming in a no swim zone of a reservoir.

What to do if You Receive a Summons for Municipal Court

The first step leading to a municipal court appearance is the issuance of a summons. If you receive a summons, it is very important that you take it seriously, speak with an attorney, and ensure that you appear in court as scheduled. You should carefully inspect the summons to understand the charges against you, as well as the potential consequences.

Phase One: Initial Appearance in Municipal Court

Defend me in a municipal court case at the Jersey Shore On your summons, there will be a court date when you are first required to appear before the municipal court. This is called a first appearance, where the judge will inform you of the charges against you and you will be asked to enter a plea of either guilty, not guilty, or no contest.

Phase Two: Negotiations with the Municipal Prosecutor

If you plead not guilty, then another court date will be scheduled during which your attorney can discuss your case with the prosecution. During this appearance, you may be able to negotiate for a reduced charge or some other type of plea bargain. Having an attorney by your side to negotiate on your behalf is invaluable during this process. When our clients receive a summons to municipal court for a criminal or traffic violation, after a thorough review of the facts, we often attempt to get the charge dismissed or reduced, if possible. Since we are experienced in handling municipal court cases, we understand what options exist within plea negotiations, and are skilled at advocating for the best possible outcome in our clients’ matters.

Phase Three: Municipal Court Trial by Judge

If a plea bargain cannot be reached, then your case will be scheduled for trial. During your trial, the prosecution will present their case and the evidence against you first and then you will have an opportunity to respond with evidence, witnesses, and your own testimony of the facts. The type of evidence necessary in your case will depend on the charge and the facts surrounding your case but may include photographs, witness statements, toxicology reports, and/or video recordings.

Municipal court cases are decided by a judge, rather than a jury. The judge must explain his or her reasoning behind their decision. If you are found not guilty, then the charges will be dismissed. If you are found guilty, then you will be sentenced by the judge, which may include fines, community service, and possibly even jail time for more serious criminal offenses. The maximum jail sentence that can be imposed by a municipal court judge in New Jersey is six months. Notably, any time imposed in a municipal court case is served in jail, not state prison.

Rule of Thumb: Always Attend Scheduled Municipal Court Dates

Before we dive into the penalties for failing to appear for a municipal court hearing, the point to remember is: don’t. Do not fail to appear from any hearing before the court in which your appearance is required. If you cannot attend a hearing for any reason, you can sometimes request a new date from the court prior to your hearing. If you fail to appear in municipal court, the court could issue a bench warrant for your arrest, which could potentially lead to jail time depending on the circumstances. They can also suspend your driver’s license and impose additional fines.

Appealing a Municipal Court Decision Based on Legal Errors

If you believe the facts of your case do not support the judge’s decision or if the judge did not appropriately apply the law, you have a right to appeal the decision of the municipal court within 20 days. Appeals are heard by the Superior Court of the same county in which the municipal court is located. Initiating the appeal process includes several strict requirements including filing several forms and ordering at least two transcript copies of your case from the municipal court. It is highly advisable to have a lawyer review your case for potential grounds to appeal and if so, walk you through the process of appealing the decision in your case.

Don’t Go it Alone in Municipal Court at the Jersey Shore

Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney at Bronzino Law Firm to handle your municipal case from the beginning is a wise decision. With the proper legal knowledge and expertise, you may be able to avoid a trial all together through the dismissal of charges or a plea bargain that substantially reduces the charges against you. If your case is scheduled for trial, the skill of our criminal defense lawyers will be indispensable in effectively presenting the evidence in support of your position and casting reasonable doubt on the allegations raised by the prosecution. Finally, if you are a first-time offender, it is imperative that you have a skilled criminal defense advisor such ours who can assess the strength of your case and determine your eligibility for diversionary programs such as conditional discharge or conditional dismissal.

If you or a loved one have received a municipal court summons or were arrested for a criminal charge to be heard in municipal court in Ocean or Monmouth County, we encourage you to contact our team of skilled and experienced municipal court attorneys today for a review of your case. Call (732) 812-3102  now for immediate assistance.