If you are arrested for a minor criminal offense in New Jersey (often called a disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense), you will receive a summons, which notifies you of your obligation to appear in municipal court on a certain date. The municipal court will be located in the city or township where you were arrested.
When you are facing criminal charges in municipal court in New Jersey, it is important to know what to expect when going to municipal court and what the process is like for facing charges in municipal court.
Types of Offense That Are Heard in Municipal Court
Municipal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction that hear minor criminal and statutory violations. Examples of offenses that are heard in municipal court include:
- Disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses (e,g, simple assault, disorderly conduct, possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, shoplifting, DUI)
- Violations of municipal ordinances
- Traffic citations
- Fishing and gaming vioations
More serious crimes, known as felonies or indictable offenses, are not heard in municipal court but are instead tried in the criminal division of the superior court; if a person is charged with at least one indictable offense from a criminal episode, all of his or her charges will be heard in superior court. Sometimes, a case that is initially brought in superior court may be transferred to municipal court when the prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges to a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense.
Possible Penalties for a Municipal Court Conviction
If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense and are convicted, you could be facing potential sentences of:
- Disorderly persons conviction: Up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000
- Petty disorderly persons conviction: Up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500
Certain crimes may impose higher fines, particularly those crimes where the offender received a financial gain at the expense of the victim.
Disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses have a presumption of non-incarceration, which means the municipal court will likely not impose jail time for a conviction unless it deems it necessary for public safety or to deter you from future criminal conduct
What Happens in a Municipal Court Proceeding
The date listed on your summons is your first appearance in municipal court. At this appearance, the judge will list the charges against you, explain the procedure for your case, advise you of your rights (such as your right to an attorney), and detail the potential sentences in the event of your conviction. You will also be asked to plead either guilty (in which case the court will ensure you are doing so knowingly and voluntarily and will likely then sentence you on the spot) or not guilty (in which case you may either immediately proceed to trial or the court will schedule a trial date). If you need time to hire an attorney, you can also request an adjournment.
If you choose to plead not guilty, there may be several more hearing dates before your trial. When your trial date finally does arrive, your case will be heard by the municipal court judge rather than a jury, who at the end of the trial will either find you guilty if the prosecutor proves each element of your charges beyond a reasonable doubt, or otherwise will find you not guilty. Both the prosecutor and you will have the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence in support of your respective cases and to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses and evidence. You have the right, but are not required, to testify in your own defense.
Contact an Experienced Voorhees Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Municipal Court Charges in New Jersey
Were you arrested or charged with municipal court charges in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at Joel Wayne Garber Law Offices have successfully represented clients charged with municipal court charges in Pennsauken, Haddon Township, Collingswood, Haddonfield, and throughout New Jersey. Call (856) 435-5800 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 1200 Laurel Oak Rd., Voorhees Township, NJ 08043, as well as offices located in Philadelphia, PA.