Over six million cases are filed in New Jersey’s 539 municipal courts each year. Often, these cases are resolved out of court by paying a fine; but paying a fine is an admission of guilt. No one likes to find him or herself in municipal court, but sometimes it’s inevitable. More serious offenses–those known as indictable offenses–are sent to the County Prosecutor who determines whether to present the case to a Grand Jury or downgrade and return it to the municipal courts.
Depending on the offense, the njd.uscourts.gov website states:
Persons charged with violations of any offense may, in lieu of appearance, post collateral in the dollar amount indicated for the offense, waive appearance before a Magistrate, and also consent to forfeiture of collateral. Persons charged with offenses not listed must appear for trial.
Please note that receiving a citation for one of the violations doesn’t automatically mean that you must definitely appear.
There are four general categories of cases heard in municipal court.
- Disorderly and petty disorderly persons violations
- Motor vehicle and traffic law violations
- Municipal ordinance (local law) violations
- Fish and Game law
- NJ Boating laws
The most common type of cases heard in a Municipal Court are traffic violations, minor criminal offenses, and also municipal ordinance violations.
Disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses
Disorderly persons offenses carry a six-month potential jail sentence, up to a $1000 fine, possible community service, and a possible probation period. Petty disorderly offenses carry a potential jail sentence of 30 days, up to a $500 fine, possible community service, and a possible probation period. In addition both offenses require a $75 SNA penalty and a $50 VCCB penalty and court costs. If it’s your first conviction, you’ll probably only have to pay a fine.
Common disorderly persons offenses
Simple assault, 2C:12-1; Shoplifting, 2C:20-11 (under $200); Theft/theft of services, 2C:20-8 (under $200); False information, 2C:28-3; Resisting arrest, 2C:29-2. Common petty disorderly offenses are harassment, 2C:29-2; and fighting, 2C:12(a)3.
N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10; 36-2, all drug and paraphernalia possession charges carry a mandatory six-month loss of license and $500 DEDR penalty, in addition to the penalties for a disorderly or petty disorderly offense. Possession of any drug other than marijuana is a felony; however, the charge may be sent back to the Municipal Courts as a non-possession charge, such as 2C:35-10(c). First offenders may be eligible for a program if the citation does not result in a conviction; however, this program still carries fines, probation, and record.
Common traffic violations that appear in Municipal Courts:
- N.J.S.A. 39:3-4. Unregistered Vehicle. Driving or parking an unregistered motor vehicle.
- N.J.S.A. 39:3-10. Unlicensed Driver. Driving with an expired license or no license.
- N.J.S.A. 39:3-29. Failure to Exhibit Documents (Driver’s License, Registration, Insurance). Failing to possess your driver’s license, registration, or insurance card.
- N.J.S.A. 39:3-33. Unclear License Plates. Driving with unclear or obstructed license plates.
- N.J.S.A. 39:3-40. Driving While License is Suspended. First offense fines are heavy and only increase with subsequent convictions, especially if the suspension resulted from a DUI/DWI.
- N.J.S.A. 39:8-1. Failure to Inspect Vehicle. Failing to have your vehicle inspected.
- N.J.S.A. 39:8-4. Failure to Make Repairs. Failing to repair your vehicle.
- N.J.S.A. 39:3-76.2f. Failure to Wear Seatbelt. Failure to wear your seatbelt.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-67. Obstruction of Traffic. Obstructing the passage of vehicles.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-81. Failure to Observe Signal. Failing to observe a traffic signal, such as a red light.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-85. Improper Passing. Improper passing on the right or off the roadway.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-96. Reckless Driving. Reckless driving is a serious offense.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-97. Careless Driving. Careless driving is less serious than reckless driving.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2. Unsafe Driving. First offenses for unsafe driving are heavy and increase with subsequent offenses.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.3. Use of Cell Phone in Moving Vehicle. Driving while talking on your hand-held cell-phone. Texting is also a violation of this statute.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-98. Speeding. Speeding is probably the most common type of traffic violation heard in municipal courts.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-126. Failure to Use Turn Signal. Failing to use your turn signal before starting, stopping, or turning.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-129. Leaving the Scene of an Accident. Leaving the scene of an accident.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-130. Failure to Report Accident. Failing to report an accident.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-144. Failure to Stop at a Stop Sign or Yield Right of Way Sign. Failing to stop at a stop sign or failing to yield.
- N.J.S.A. 39:5C-1. Racing on Highway. Racing on a highway.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Driving While Intoxicated. Driving while intoxicated is one of the most serious traffic offenses for which you can be charged.
- N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2. Refusing to Submit to a Breath Test (Alco-Test). New Jersey law says that if you have a driver’s license, you have consented to a breath test to determine how much alcohol is in your blood.
Municipal ordinances (local laws) most commonly heard in Municipal Courts
New Jersey has 250 boroughs, 52 cities, 15 towns, 246 townships, and 3 villages and New Jersey law permits each of these municipalities to create and enact their own local rules and regulations–referred to as ordinances–to help self-govern each place.
The most common ordinance violations include:
- Disturbing the peace
- Excessive noise
- Public Intoxication
Fish and game law
Fish and game law includes a variety of violations associated with hunting including deer permit violations (hunting without a permit, wrong season, wrong zone, permit transfer); firearm hunting too close to a school playground or building; bow hunting too close to a school playground or building; negligent use of a weapon that results in injury or death; property damage; careless use of a weapon (shooting into a safety zone, handling a weapon unsafely); poaching (or taking animals out of season); and trespassing.
New Jersey protects its state parks and forests with a wide range of regulations. To view the entire list of prohibitions and violations, click here. The list below is just a few of the more common violations for which people are cited.
- Possessing alcoholic beverages
- Dumping garbage or littering
- Defacing property – whether manmade or natural
- Harming or harassing animals
- Fishing in prohibited areas or poaching
- Snowmobiling or four-wheeling or driving any other vehicle where prohibited
- Camping without a permit
Boating laws and violations
The New Jersey State Police’s Marine Services Bureau contains all the information you’ll need to ensure that you are operating a boat safely and within the law. Some of the offenses for which you will receive a citation and need to appear in municipal court include:
- Driving or operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Operating a boat powered by an electric trolling motor, or a vessel 12-feet or longer with less than 10 HP if you’re under 13 years old
- Operating all other power vessels, including personal watercraft, if you’re less than 16
- Failing to carry or exhibit a boat license when operating a power boat on non-tidal waters
- Operating a power vessel without a NJ Boating Safety Certificate