You've gotten a ticket or summons for municipal court. What do I do? The most important step you must take is to contact the Court and advise of your intention to plead 'not guilty" to the charges. Remember by pleading not guilty you are simply advising the Court that you intend to contest the ticket and that you will be requiring the Prosecutor to prove your case against you, beyond a reasonable doubt. Failing to contact the court of your not guilty plea will result in delay of your case, possibly an additional court appearance and more frustration on your part. Most of all, be courteous and pleasant to the court officials.
Do I need an attorney in Municipal Court
The answer to this question is that in the best of all worlds, yes, you should have an attorney in municipal court. Muncipal Court is the one court that more people in New Jersey have contact with and the consequences of failing to properly handle your matter can be devestating. Too many people end up losing their driving privileges or incur huge monetary fines which the assistance of an experienced lawyer would have prevented. At the very least, take the time to review your case with an attorney who has significant experience in the municipal court field. Knowing the players and the system has its benefits. If you are involved in a matter where someone has been injured or significantly damaged in some way, you should make ever effort to obtain representation. If you are presently unemployed or unable to hire an attorney, apply for the public defender. Public defenders in New Jersey are for the most part local attorneys who give their time to the court system at a reduced rate.
I haven't hired an attorney - what should I do?
When you arrive the day of court, the list of cases will likely be called in alphabetical order with a request that you enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Plead not guilty again and request to speak to the prosecutor. Take the time to speak with the prosecutor or liason officer to see whether there is a potential resolution to your case that involves a downgrade in the charge or reduction in the penalty. Prosecutors will often offer downgrades to "no point" tickets on minor traffic tickets such as speeding or running a stop sign. Remember if you get to Court and you really feel that things are falling apart for you, express your need and right to consult counsel. Almost always the judge will give you another chance to seek legal counsel.
You Have Reached a Plea Agreement
You've reached a plea agreement with the prosecutor. What happens next? In almost all NJ courts a written plea agreement is prepared and you are asked to sign off acknowledging your agreement to the plea. The form is presented to the Court so that the Judge knows what the agreement is when you are called up. Be prepared to be sworn in and to respond to the Court's questions as to whether you understand the plea, whether you are waiving your right to counsel, and whether you are waiving your right to a trial. You will then be asked to respond to a short series of questions that are designed to insure to the judge that you are in fact guilty of the offense charge. In other words the judge will want a 'factual basis" to support the plea. When your name is called approach the microphone, be considerate to the Judge and the Court will conduct the matter from there.
Payment of fines and costs
Most of the NJ municipal courts will tell you that fines and costs are due the night of court. Still, almost all will work out a payment plan. Be prepared to fill out a 5A form with some basic financial information and make sure that you have something to put down towards your fines and costs. A bare minimum of $50 if you are really strapped for money but a more likely amount of $100 will likely get you a favorable response from the Court.
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