Municipal Ordinances vs. Crimes in New Jersey

municipal court

Offenses in New Jersey Municipal Courts

If you have recently been accused of violating a municipal ordinance in New Jersey, you may be worried about how to handle the case, whether you have been accused of committing a crime, what the potential consequences to your life are, and if you should hire a lawyer to defend you. Also, you may have heard that some criminal charges can be converted to municipal ordinances and be wondering if this is applies to your case. If you have an upcoming appearance in New Jersey Municipal Court, it is crucial to understand what your case means in the eyes of the law. As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we at William Proetta Criminal Law have dedicated our careers to defending clients facing charges in Edison, New Brunswick, Piscataway, East Brunswick, Metuchen, Woodbridge, and throughout New Jersey. To learn more about municipal ordinances vs. crimes in NJ, please read the information below and feel free to contact our Edison office at (732) 659-9600 to speak with an attorney about your case.

NJ Municipal Ordinances vs. Criminal Offenses

In New Jersey, people are subject to federal laws, state laws, and municipal ordinances, which are enacted by local municipalities. Only indictable offenses under state law are considered “crimes” in New Jersey. Indictable offenses carry the potential for over 6 months imprisonment and give the accused a right to an indictment by grand jury and a right to a jury trial. Lesser offenses called disorderly persons offenses are the equivalent of criminal misdemeanors in other states. Violations of municipal ordinances are not crimes under New Jersey law.

If you are issued a summons for a municipal ordinance or disorderly persons offense, your case will be heard at the municipal court in the municipality where the alleged violation occurred. You will receive a summons with the date, time, and location of your hearing. You will not have a right to a jury trial but will have your case heard by the presiding municipal court judge. Although they are handled in the same court, the main difference between disorderly persons offenses and municipal ordinance violations is that convictions for disorderly persons offenses create a criminal record and municipal ordinance violations do not.

Charged with a Disorderly Persons Offense or Ordinance Violation?

It is very important to be clear about whether you have been charged with a disorderly persons offense or a municipal ordinance violation. While municipal ordinance violations typically only carry the punishment of a fine, disorderly persons offenses can carry jail time and a criminal record, which can negatively impact job prospects and other areas of life. It is not uncommon for individuals to be confused about what type of offense or violation they have been accused of. Determining whether you have been accused of a municipal ordinance violation or a disorderly persons offense is very important in order to assess the potential penalties you are facing and your best defense strategy.

Sometimes, through negotiation with the prosecutor, it is possible for a disorderly persons offense or even a fourth degree crime to be downgraded to a municipal ordinance violation, thereby avoiding the creation of a criminal record. For example, a criminal charge for disorderly conduct may be downgraded to an ordinance to help you keep your record clean. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate your case to determine if there is potential for downgrading the charges. Here are a few examples of cases in which we successfully had criminal charges downgraded to ordinances:

Municipal Court Defense Lawyers Serving Edison, New Brunswick, Piscataway, and Middlesex County NJ

If you have been charged with a criminal offense or are unsure how to handle a violation in municipal court, you should absolutely speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your specific situation. Depending on the alleged offense, you may be facing jail time, significant fines, and a criminal record. For a free consultation with a lawyer who can help with your case, contact us anytime at (732) 659-9600.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.