What Happens in Municipal Court in New Jersey?


Cases heard in municipal court are either motor vehicle tickets (including DWI offenses), disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey. Aside from traffic violations, the offenses in municipal court are often referred to as “quasi-criminal,” as the penal consequences are less serious than indictable/felony crimes. Nonetheless, those with charges in municipal court are still entitled to plea negotiations, motions, hearings, and eventually, a trial. A conviction will result in a criminal record, and if a case is not handled in the best possible manner, there is also potential for jail time and other serious consequences. Here is what you need to know about how a municipal court case for disorderly conductsimple assaultmarijuana possession (less than 50 grams)drug paraphernalia, or another municipal offense will proceed. If you need help with a municipal court case in Edison, Carteret, New Brunswick, South Brunswick, Woodbridge, Monroe Township, or another local community in the Middlesex County area, contact us now at (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Have to go to Municipal Court, What Happens Next?

If you have a received a summons or notice to go to municipal court, you must appear on the date and time on the notice. If you have retained an attorney, the attorney will likely send in a notice of appearance and ask that a not guilty plea be entered on your behalf. The court will likely issue a new date for you and your attorney to appear and answer to the charges. If you do not have an attorney, you must go to court to request additional time to retain an attorney and enter a not guilty plea.

Upon the second court date, after the above is taken care of, your attorney will have reviewed the discovery as provided by the prosecutor. Discovery is all documentation, recordings, statements, photographs, etc. that the state has as it pertains to your case. Your attorney will review the discovery and make sure that all information is complete and that there is nothing missing.

Do I Have to Have a Trial in Municipal Court?

Not every case in municipal court goes to trial. After the discovery has been reviewed, your attorney will try to resolve the case prior to a trial through a number of potential avenues.

Pre-Trial Motions in Municipal Court

Certain cases can be dismissed for failure to follow the law or for lack of evidence. In this situation, your attorney may make motions as it pertains to applicable issues. In some cases, the attorney may allege that the search was bad and in violation of your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. They may also file motions to suppress any statements you made or to compel discovery. Additionally, an attorney can file a motion to dismiss your case for lack of probable cause or for the failure by the state to provide discovery.

Plea Negotiations in Municipal Court Cases

Other times, cases can be resolved by way of a plea bargain. For example, an experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to get your charges reduced to a lesser offense or a municipal ordinance to help you avoid the penalties you are facing for the original charges. If a plea has been negotiated, it can be resolved in one day by plea and sentence. In this situation, the court will sentence you to what your attorney has agreed to on your behalf. If the judge decides to sentence you to something more than the agreement, then you can take your plea back and the process starts over.

You may also have the option to gain admission into a program like Conditional Discharge or Conditional Dismissal, which allows you to secure a dismissal by successfully completing a period of probation.

Municipal Court Trials

If not resolution is reached by way of dismissal, plea, or diversionary program, the case moves to the trial phase. At this point, a trial will be scheduled in the municipal court. A trial is an event in which the prosecutor has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, a trial in municipal court is tried in front of the municipal judge, not a jury of your peers. The prosecutor may put on witnesses such as police officers, eye-witnesses, or an alleged victim to tell the state’s side of the story. Your attorney will cross examine witnesses and have an opportunity to present your side through witnesses as well. After both sides have presented their respective cases, the judge will review and come to decision. The judge has the power to determine if your are guilty or not guilty and what your sentence should be if convicted. Depending on the specific charges, municipal courts can sentence someone to up to 6 months in the county jail, as well as fines, court fees, probation, community service, license suspension, and many other serious consequences.

Should I Get an Attorney for a Municipal Court Case in New Brunswick or another Local Town in Middlesex?

Every case is unique in municipal court, as the facts of the cases are always different. However, every person has the right to counsel, the right to have a trial, and the right to be present and heard. Experienced criminal defense attorneys, such as ours, know how to navigate municipal courts and put the state to its proofs. Contact our Middlesex County office today by calling (732) 659-9600 for answers to your questions and assistance in fighting your case.

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.