NJ Municipal Courts have jurisdiction to hear traffic offenses, including DWI (N.J.S. 39:4-50). “It is through the Municipal Courts that most citizens in the State come into contact with the judicial system.” “[I]t is from their experience in the Municipal Courts that most people base their conclusions about the quality of justice in New Jersey.” (http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/mcs/history.htm).
The “Vision Statement” of NJ Municipal Courts (http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/mission.htm) provides that the Municipal Court system is “an independent branch of government constitutionally entrusted with the fair and just resolution of disputes in order to preserve the rule of law and to protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States and this State.” The vision is to be a “system, characterized by excellence that strives to attain justice for the individual and society through the rule of law … [to] earn the respect and confidence of an informed public.” The “Core Values” are: (1) Independence, (2) Integrity, (3) Fairness and (4) Quality Service.
These are ideals – they are visions – constitutional aims if you will. In the movie “The Verdict”, lawyer Frank Galvin (played brilliantly by Paul Newman) said to a jury: “[The] marble statue[s] … the trappings of the court … are just symbols of our desire to be just.” “They are…they are, in fact, a prayer … [a] fervent and a frightened prayer.”
“The Due Process Clause of the [U.S.] Constitution prohibits deprivations of life, liberty, or property without fundamental fairness through governmental conduct that offends the community’s sense of justice, decency and fair play.” Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 432-34, 106 S.Ct. 1135, 1146-48 (1986). This is based upon the premise that, “[D]ue process of law is a summarized constitutional guarantee of respect for those personal immunities which . . . are so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people so as to be ranked as fundamental.” Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 169, 72 S.Ct. 205 (1952).
In order for constitutional guarantees to mean anything, Judges are empowered to act with independence. This means a Judge is a neutral arbiter, separate and apart from the Legislative and Executive branches of government. This is a vital to dispensing justice in NJ Municipal Courts and our country.
In 1788, Alexander Hamilton, discussing the ratification of Constitution in “The Federalist” (aka “Federalist Papers”), discussed the importance of judicial independence. He said, “the general liberty of the people can never be endangered … so long as the judiciary remains truly distinct from both the Legislature and the Executive.” Judicial independence “may therefore be justly regarded as an indispensable ingredient in its constitution, and, in a great measure … the citadel of the public justice and the public security.” “The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential … [w]ithout this, all the … rights or privileges would amount to nothing.” Hamilton said, “[i]f … the courts of justice are to be considered as the bulwarks of [the] … Constitution …, nothing will contribute so much as this to that independent spirit in the judges which must be essential to the faithful performance of so arduous a duty.”
Almost 200 years later, in State v. Paris, 214 N.J. Super. 220, 225 (Law Div. 1986), New Jersey Superior Court Judge Haines, a brilliant jurist, reminded and instructed NJ Municipal Courts that “[i]n our system of justice, judges act independently … [t]hey must if the court system is to maintain integrity.” Id. Judge Haines instructs, “[l]iability to answer to everyone who might feel himself aggrieved by the action of the judge would be inconsistent with the possession of [the court’s] freedom, and would destroy that independence without which no judiciary can be either respectable or useful.” Id. (citing Bradley v. Fischer, 80 U.S. 335, 347; 20 L.Ed. 646 (1871).
The Constitution is the foundation of our system of justice. It is in fact, the foundation of the United States. The Municipal Court Vision Statement (to be “an independent branch of government constitutionally entrusted with the fair and just resolution of disputes in order to preserve the rule of law and to protect the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States and this State”) is embodied in the very spirit of our country. The vision statement is, as lawyer, Frank Galvin said in “The Verdict”, “our desire to be just.”
In the Municipal Court, Judges are empowered and indeed, required to act with independence – in order to be what Alexander Hamilton called, “the bulwarks of [the] … Constitution.” The Judge’s role is indeed, as Hamilton said, an “arduous … duty.” It is not and cannot be a mere “vision” or hope, but an imperative – a commandment if you will, necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the Government.
A DWI offense in NJ is not a “crime” – it has been classified as a “quasi-criminal” offense. That term is used in the context of a defendant’s rights to constitutional protections, for example, the right to a speedy trial, the right to receive discovery and the right to due process. A defendant charged with DWI in New Jersey is entitled to the same constitutional guarantees afforded to any defendant in the criminal justice system.
NJ Municipal Court Judges, must protect every defendant’s rights – an “arduous … duty.” Otherwise, the system becomes an unconstitutional assembly line. “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice” (Proverbs 16:8).
I am offended when people use the term “technicality” when referring to a constitutional issue or defense. A technicality is an obscure rule buried in main text, often in a small footnote, only understood by experts. The Constitution is not a technicality. It is a fundamental legal framework – forming the very foundation of our Country.
NJ Municipal Court Judges are empowered and required to undertake their “arduous … duty” with independence. This is as Alexander Hamilton said, “an indispensable ingredient [to the] constitution, and, in a great measure … the citadel of … public justice and … public security.” Hamilton explained that “[t]he complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential … [w]ithout this, all the … rights or privileges would amount to nothing.” Over 200 years ago, Hamilton was making as Lawyer Frank Galvin from “The Verdict” said, “a prayer … [a] fervent and a frightened prayer.”