When people think of criminal trials, they often think of high-profile cases involving serious, violent offenses. However, not every crime is so severe. Many less serious offenses are heard in Municipal Court, especially disorderly persons offenses. While the stakes are arguably a bit lower, that does not mean a defendant should not be worried.
Any conviction in your criminal record can impact your life, no matter if it is a minor charge or a major criminal offense. A criminal record can affect your current and future job opportunities, professional licenses, your family, and almost every facet of your life. Even traffic tickets can result in increased insurance rates or your license being suspended. If you have been charged with a minor criminal charge, or have received a traffic ticket, do not go to court alone. Call our Municipal Court defense attorneys immediately.
At the Law Office of John J. Zarych, we advocate aggressively for individuals facing a wide range of criminal charges in both municipal and state courts. We represent clients throughout Atlantic County and South Jersey. To arrange for a free case review, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.
Municipal Court Offenses in New Jersey
The Municipal Court in Atlantic City is often a person’s first interaction with the court system. While the municipal courts are generally considered the lowest courts in the state, Municipal Judges have been granted broad authority to impose fines, prison sentences, and other sanctions. Cases that are heard in the Atlantic City Municipal court can generally be divided into four categories of offenses charged within the City of Atlantic City:
- Violations of motor vehicle and traffic laws
- Violations of disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses (criminal matters which may result in fines or jail)
- Violations of municipal ordinances
- Violations of Fish and Game laws, Weights and Measures, SPCA, and Boating Regulations
Some of the most common motor vehicle offenses are heard in Atlantic City Municipal Court. The attorneys at the Law Office of John J. Zarych have experience defending against many of these charges, including the following:
- Driving while intoxicated;
- Driving without insurance;
- Driving with a suspended license;
- Leaving the scene of an accident;
- Reckless and careless driving;
- Speeding; and
- All other moving violations.
Disorderly persons offenses that are often brought to the Atlantic City Municipal Court and cases we have represented clients in include the following:
- Possession of under fifty grams of marijuana;
- Simple assault;
- Disorderly conduct;
- Trespassing; and
- All other non-felony offenses.
When Do You Have to Appear in Municipal Court in NJ?
There are certain instances when you are always required to make an appearance at the municipal court in Atlantic City. Non-criminal matters such as Traffic, Boating, Local Ordinance, Fish and Game, and Parks and Forests violations can often be paid through the mail or at the court office, also known as a Violations Bureau. However, it is important to note that you are admitting to guilt by making a payment for these non-criminal offenses.
Many offenses require that you make an appearance. You will always be required to make an appearance in the Atlantic City Municipal Court. You will be required to make an appearance in municipal court for all criminal matters, such as shoplifting, assault, drug charges, and driving under the influence. However, you do not need to be concerned whether you need to appear because there will be a box on the back of the ticket or complaint that indicates whether or not you need to appear. If the “court appearance required” box is checked, then you will need to appear.
However, even if you are not required to make an appearance, you may still want to make an appearance in court to contest your charges. This right is guaranteed partly by both the United States and New Jersey Constitution. By making an appearance in court and going through the trial process, there is a chance that the charges will be lowered, dismissed, or you will be found not guilty. However, you will not likely have your charges dismissed or even reduced simply by showing up to court.
In the interest of justice and fairness, you are expected to abide by all court rules and procedures. Namely, you would need to prove your innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. While it is not impossible for you to do this, an experienced criminal attorney who has devoted years to defending matters in municipal courts is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your rights are protected.
How to Prepare for a New Jersey Municipal Court Appearance
If you have never been charged with a crime before, the process of preparing for a court date may be totally foreign to you. If you are unsure how to get ready for a Municipal Court hearing, remember that it is better to be overprepared than underprepared. Our New Jersey Municipal Court defense attorneys can help you be as prepared as possible for your hearing.
Perhaps your very first step before setting foot in a municipal court building is to hire an attorney. Ideally, you should speak with a lawyer immediately after you are arrested or cited. Not every offense that lands you in municipal court involves an arrest. For example, traffic tickets rarely lead to an arrest yet are some of the most common municipal-level offenses. A hearing in Municipal Court is just as serious as any other hearing, and an attorney should be hired to help you.
You must also dress appropriately. Sometimes people disregard a municipal hearing because the charges are often less serious. You might not be thrown out of court for showing up in sweatpants, but you certainly will not win any points with the judge. It is best to dress professionally. Your attorney can advise you of any court dress codes and help you acquire proper clothing for your hearing.
You must also review your case and work with your lawyer to gather evidence. If you wish to challenge the charges against you, you will need evidence. At the very least, you should be prepared to poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence. You should also discuss the sentencing possibilities with your attorney. It is great if you want to fight your charges, but you must be prepared for the possibility that you might lose. Is jail time a possible punishment, or will you only pay some fines? Knowing the possible sentence for your offense can help you strategize appropriately.
Sentencing in New Jersey Municipal Court
Serious, violent crimes are not often heard in Municipal Court. The most common criminal charges are disorderly persons offenses, petty disorderly persons offenses, and various infractions that might not even be considered criminal offenses. As such, the penalties in Municipal Court tend to be lower than people expect. However, even minor criminal charges can lead to very unpleasant outcomes.
According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:43-8, a disorderly persons offense may be punished with a jail term of no longer than 6 months. Petty disorderly persons offenses are punishable by a maximum of only 30 days in jail. In many cases, jail time is not even on the table as far as sentencing goes, and a defendant might only have to pay some fines.
However, a defendant with multiple charges in Municipal Court could be facing a harsher outcome. For example, a person with 4 separate disorderly persons charges might face a maximum of 2 years in jail. Just like any other case, a Municipal Court case must be argued aggressively to effectively fight your charges.
Many Municipal Court cases are resolved through plea deals. Negotiating a plea deal at the municipal level is similar to negotiating a plea deal at the Superior Court level. Your attorney and the prosecutor will go back and forth on the details until an agreeable arrangement can be made. Since Municipal Court cases tend to involve minor charges, you could negotiate for no jail time, or at least very minimal jail time. Our New Jersey Municipal Court defense attorneys can help you argue for the best plea deal possible.
Appealing a Municipal Court Decision in New Jersey
A Municipal Court trial, just like any other trial, can be appealed if you are ultimately found guilty. An appeal is not a new trial but could lead to a new trial if you are successful. An appeal is more like a review of your case by a higher court checking for certain legal errors that might have affected the outcome.
When you file an appeal, you must fill out numerous forms and paperwork. The first form is your Notice of Municipal Court Appeal. The Municipal Court must receive your Notice of Municipal Court Appeal form within 20 days of the date you were found guilty. This time frame includes weekends and holidays. You must also pay a $100 filing fee for the appeal and a transcript fee, neither of which is refundable. You must mail or deliver a copy of your Notice form to the court and then deliver a copy of the Notice form to the prosecutor within 5 days.
Next, fill out a Certification of Timely Filing form, otherwise known as Form C. This simply lets the court know your appeal notice was filed on time with the court and the prosecutor. Send the original Notice form and the original Form C to the Criminal Division Manager at the Superior Court no less than 5 days after filing your other paperwork. You must send these forms to the Superior Court in the county where you are filing your appeal.
Appeals can be very difficult. It is not guaranteed that the higher court will find any legal errors, and the lower court findings might be affirmed. However, our New Jersey Municipal Court defense attorneys can help you file an appeal if you were previously found guilty.
Remote Municipal Court Hearings in New Jersey
In 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many courts, including Municipal Court, are conducting various hearings remotely. You could have an in-person hearing, but you should be prepared to have your hearing over the phone or through an online video conference portal. Remote hearings might feel a bit strange since you are not really in the same room as the judge, prosecutors, or court personnel. However, you should take steps to prepare for a remote hearing.
Remote hearings may be delayed or hindered by technical difficulties. You should be using a phone or computer with a secure connection that will not drop your call or disconnect your video conference. You should also make sure your internet connection is reliable and secure. If you do not have the devices needed for a remote hearing or you lack an internet connection, speak to our New Jersey municipal court defense lawyers for help.
You should also have all your forms with you. The court might need to reference certain forms, paperwork, or even important evidence. You must have copies of everything at your disposal just in case the court has any questions, and so you can follow along with what the court is discussing.
Be aware of your surroundings during a remote hearing. The information being discussed is often very sensitive, so you should be somewhere as private as possible. Eliminate any distractions like children or noisy roommates if you can.
If you are unsure how to participate in a remote hearing or do not have the ability to access a remote hearing, our New Jersey Municipal Court defense attorneys can provide assistance.
Municipal Court Information in Atlantic County
Atlantic City is one of the biggest tourist destinations on the east coast and has some of the most vibrant nightlife to go along with it. In addition to this, its municipal court system is one of the busiest in the entire state. Our New Jersey Municipal Court defense lawyers can guide you through this often hectic process.
The Atlantic City Municipal Court is located at 2715 Atlantic Ave, Atlantic City, NJ 08401. The court maintains regular office hours Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. As evidence of the volume of cases that the Atlantic City Municipal Court hears, two judges are currently assigned to preside over municipal court cases. In contrast, most townships in New Jersey only have a single judge assigned to handle matters brought before the court.
Even if a case is not ultimately heard in the Atlantic City Municipal Court, it may start here. The cases that start in the Atlantic City Municipal Court and then are transferred to the Atlantic County Superior Court include homicide and aggravated sexual assault cases. However, in some instances, even when a case is transferred up to the superior court, it may then be transferred back to the Municipal Court in Atlantic City. This underscores the need to have aggressive and effective counsel from the outset of your case.
Need an Attorney Before Your Municipal Court Hearing?
If you or one of your family members was arrested for a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, it’s important to take the charges seriously. DP offenses may carry lighter penalties than indictable crimes, but make no mistake: a conviction still has the power to result in heavy fines, months of incarceration, the temporary suspension of your driver’s license, mandatory community service, and the creation of a permanent record which potential employers can access. Talk to our New Jersey Municipal Court defense attorneys about representation for your case.
Call Our New Jersey Municipal Court Defense Attorneys
With representation from our skilled Municipal Court defense lawyer, you might beat your charges or obtain a conditional dismissal, which means you will be placed under supervision instead of being sentenced to jail. To arrange for a free and private case review, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 right away.