Of the approximately seven million cases filed in New Jersey’s Courts each year, about six million are filed and resolved in Municipal Courts (https://www.njcourts.gov/courts/municipal). Each Municipal Court has a locally appointed judge, prosecutor, and public defender.
New Jersey Municipal Courts have jurisdiction (authority) to handle cases allegedly occurring within the boundaries of its municipality. Municipal Courts are referred to as courts of “limited jurisdiction” because Municipal Courts have jurisdiction (authority) to hear certain cases.
Municipal Courts can hear the following alleged offenses:
1. Traffic tickets/offenses; for example, speeding, driving with a suspended driver’s license, DWI
2. Disorderly or petty disorderly person offenses; for example, harassment, simple assault, trespassing, or issuing a bad check
3. Municipal ordinance violations; for example, building code violations, loud noise, and excessive dog barking
Serious crimes; for example, murder, assault by auto, and distribution of drugs, are heard in the County Superior Court. A Municipal Court violation is often referred to as a “quasi-criminal” offense. While Municipal Court violations are technically not crimes, a defendant is entitled to many of the same protections afforded to a defendant charged with a serious crime. While a Municipal Court charge may appear minor, the penalties arising from a conviction can be significant, including up to six months in jail, fines, NJ Motor Vehicle Commission points, surcharges, and license suspension.
TRAFFIC OFFENSES: Thousands of traffic tickets are written and resolved yearly in New Jersey. Getting a traffic ticket is startling; pulling over at the sight of overhead police car lights, being questioned, and receiving a ticket or tickets is a stressful event. Most clients are concerned and feel uncertain about the procedure, court-imposed fines/penalties, NJ Motor Vehicle Commission (NJ MVC) points/surcharges/license suspension, and the impact on their insurance rates.
In some cases, pleading guilty might be advisable. In most cases, however, pleading not guilty is advisable. Entering a not-guilty plea through an attorney is accomplished by filing correspondence with the court, commonly referred to as a letter of representation.
POINTS AND THEIR IMPACT: The NJ MVC assesses points for moving violations (NJ MVC points: https://www.state.nj.us/mvc/license/points-schedule.htm). Your license can be suspended for accumulation of points as follows:
* 12 to 15 points in two years or less (30 days)
* 16 to 18 points in two years or less (60 days)
* 19 to 21 points in two years or less (90 days)
* 22 to 24 points in two years or less (120 days)
* 25 to 27 points in two years or less (150 days)
* 28 or more points in two years or less (180 days or more)
* 15 to 18 points in a period greater than two years (30 days)
* 19 to 22 points in a period greater than two years (60 days)
* 23 to 26 points in a period greater than two years (90 days)
* 27 to 30 points in a period greater than two years (120 days)
* 31 to 35 points in a period greater than two years (150 days)
* 36 points in a period greater than two years (180 days or more)
* 12 to 14 points in a period greater than two years (30 days)
NJ MVC Points can also result in NJ MVC assessments, called surcharges. Surcharges will be assessed as follows:
* Six or more points within three years (yearly $150 surcharge, plus an additional $25 for each point over six).
In addition to moving violations causing points, the following violations will result in yearly surcharges:
* Unlicensed/Expired license, 39:3-10 ($100 a year for three years, $300 total)
* Driving suspended/revoked, 39:3-40 ($250 a year for three years, $750 total)
* Driving without insurance, 39:6B2 ($250 a year for three years, $750 total), * 1st and 2nd DWI ($1,000 a year for three years, $3,000 total)
*3rd DWI within three years of the last offense ($1,500 a year for three years, $4,500 total).
New Jersey car insurers classify drivers and assess rates based on eligibility points. NJ MVC points translate point-for-point into insurance eligibility points. These points translate into insurance rate increases and, in some cases, the refusal to renew coverage. The accumulation of seven insurance eligibility points will result in a non-renewal and obtaining insurance through the high/assigned-risk pool, Personal Automobile Insurance Plan (PAIP).
Insurance eligibility points are also assessed for violations and events that do not carry NJ MVC points, something that is often overlooked. For example, the following events do not carry NJ MVC points but will result in insurance eligibility points:
* At-fault accident (50% or more at fault, or 33% in an accident involving more than two cars AND where the insurer pays out $1,000 or more): 5-points
* DWI (39:4–50) or Refusal to Submit (39:4-50.4): 9-points
* Driving suspended/revoked (39:3-40): 9-points
* Driving without insurance (39:6B–2): 9-points
* Using counterfeit license plates, registration, or license (39:3–38): 5-points
In addition, New Jersey Law also provides that an insurance carrier may cancel a policy for the following often-overlooked reasons:
* Racing on a highway (39:5C–1)
* Failure to pass to the right of a vehicle proceeding in the opposite direction (39:4–84)
* Tailgating (39:4–89)
* Reckless driving (39:4–96)
* Exceeding a speed limit by 30 MPH or more (39:4-98/39:4–99)
* Improperly passing a school bus (39:4–128.1)
* Leaving the scene of an accident (39:4–129)
* Where evidence exists that the suspended or revoked operator has been driving the vehicle during the period of suspension or revocation
* Suspension or revocation of license or registration of named insured during the policy period
* Driver’s license suspension of someone residing in the insured household who has been suspended or revoked during the policy term for DWI, Refusal to Submit, Driving Suspended, Driving Without Insurance, or Accumulation of Points
DISORDERLY PERSON OFFENSES:
Offenses/Charges in New Jersey, beginning with N.J.S.A. 2C (the New Jersey Criminal Code), are classified as crimes (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th degree) when the offenses carry a term of imprisonment of more than six months. Offenses/charges with terms of imprisonment of not more than six months are classified as disorderly person offenses, heard exclusively in the Municipal Court. Offenses/charges with terms of imprisonment of not more than thirty days are classified as petty disorderly person offenses, heard solely in the Municipal Court.
Some common disorderly offenses heard in the Municipal Court are:
* Simple Assault
* Using Controlled Dangerous Substances
* Being Under the Influence of Controlled Dangerous Substances
* Resisting Arrest
* Obstructing the Administration of Law or Governmental Function
* Possession of or Consumption of Alcohol Under Legal Age
* Disorderly Conduct
* Prowling Or Wandering in a Public Place to Buy Drugs
* Criminal Mischief
A disorderly person offense in New Jersey, while not a crime by definition, is often called a quasi-criminal offense because the defendant is entitled to the same constitutional protections afforded to a defendant charged with a crime. There is one exception; the defendant is not entitled to a trial-by-jury; trials are presided over by a Municipal Couty Judge.
A disorderly person charge will appear as an arrest on a standard background search. Likewise, a conviction will appear on the background search as a conviction. These offenses may also impact employment since many employers will run background searches as a precondition to or for continued employment.
Greggory M. Marootian, Esq.
154 South Livingston Avenue
Livingston, NJ 07039
NJ Municipal Court Specialist