Is a Lawyer Needed for Municipal Court in New Jersey?
What is the municipal court?
Municipal court, or the people’s court, usually conjures connotations of small-time petty offenses, if any connotations at all. Despite being the subject of a little ridicule from TV shows and the like, the municipal court in New Jersey does handle smaller offenses and is a necessary part of the legal system. These offenses can include traffic tickets. The municipal court is still considered a trial court but deals exclusively with cases involving city ordinance violations.
In addition, municipal courts only have jurisdiction over matters specifically within the limits of the New Jersey municipality that it governs.
What types of crimes does a municipal court handle?
In New Jersey, municipal court hears matters such as motor violations, traffic violations, disorderly and petty disorderly person offenses, and violations of municipal ordinances. However, municipal court offenses are considered quasi-criminal and can include severe consequences such as:
- Heavy fines
- DMV points
- Insurance surcharges
- Possible license loss
- License suspension
- Possible jail sentences
In other words, even though New Jersey only considers them as an “offense,” as opposed to a crime or a felony, they should still be taken seriously. On the bright side, because they are considered offenses, the municipal court offers the same legal protections as a criminal matter would be.
This means that if charged with a municipal offense, the presumption of innocence still exists, and New Jersey must prove a violation of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Is a lawyer necessary In municipal court?
Most people either do not fully consider or fully comprehend the seriousness of being found guilty in a municipal court. For example, if sent a summons with the Court Appearance box checked, appearances are mandatory. Some people assume that there is just a fine to be paid, and don’t appear in front of the judge, which has later consequences.
If required to appear in municipal court, hiring an attorney is the first recommended step. Though one is technically not needed, hiring an attorney has all sorts of positive benefits. The municipal court prosecutor is still a New Jersey state representative and is generally a very confident and capable trial attorney. Success against such a skilled prosecutor usually requires an equivalently skilled attorney in the other corner. Hiring a municipal court defense attorney allows a legal advocate to spot weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case and advocate for the strongest legal defense possible.
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The consequences of being found guilty of a municipal offense can be severe. Given the temptation to take the matter less seriously, some people might not find the act of hiring a lawyer necessary. However, the municipal court is not the time to experiment with trial and error and chance the decision of trying out one’s legal aptitude.
Legal representation in municipal court is a beneficial and necessary service for a variety of situations. The purpose of a municipal court attorney is to dismiss or reduce the charge instead of dragging the case out for an extended period.
Call (732) 449-0449 to schedule a consultation with Anthony J. Cafaro, P.C. in our Sea Girt office.
NOTE: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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