You are driving down the highway and you notice flashing lights behind you. The officer approaches and asks you for your license, registration and insurance card. A few minutes later you are handed a number of tickets and the officer drives away. You sit there wondering what do I do? Do not panic. Help is on the way. This article is intended to educate the reader about municipal court and their rights.
Virtually every municipality in the State of New Jersey operates their own municipal court. Municipal courts have jurisdiction over the following types of offenses: violations of municipal ordinances, violation of the traffic code, disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses. The maximum period of incarceration for a single disorderly persons offense is six months. Fines can be as high as $1,000.00 for each conviction or guilty plea.
While there is a huge variety of the types of cases that are heard in municipal court, there are a smaller number that seem to come up on a much more frequent basis. They are: driving with a suspended or revoked license, driving without insurance, speeding, driving while intoxicated, shoplifting, simple assault, possession of CDS and leaving the scene of an accident. All of these offenses are serious and many can result in the loss of driving privileges, incarceration in the county jail, community service and substantial fines. The fines and penalties are usually significantly higher for repeat offenders.
You may be asking yourself what do I do? Is it worth hiring a lawyer? What are my rights? While having a lawyer protect your legal interests is not required, generally it is beneficial and sometimes essential to have lawyer. The role of the lawyer is varied. The lawyer is not only the protector of the client’s rights but also an educator and quite often a hand holder during stressful times. A skillful lawyer can identify potential defenses to the charges and when an out right acquittal is unlikely, than the lawyer can often minimize the negative consequences of a guilty plea. For example the loss of driving privileges for driving with a suspended license can vary from zero to one hundred and eighty days. Furthermore, if a client is facing a period of incarceration, a lawyer can identify alternative programs such as work release or a rehabilitation center in lieu of jail.
It is also important to note that there can sometimes be very serious collateral consequences to a conviction of certain types of offenses. Not only can insurance rates rise but drivers who accumulate six or more points face surcharges from the Motor Vehicle Commission. Those clients who are convicted of certain disorderly or petty disorderly persons offenses who are not citizens of the United States may face deportation to their native country. This information is not intended to scare anyone but rather to educate. There is no substitute for a good attorney. Those of you that choose to ignore your legal problems will always find themselves facing warrants for arrest, suspended licenses and sanctions for contempt of court. Remember the best defense is a good offense and that offense is a good lawyer.