In larger towns or cities like New Jersey, municipal courts are lower courts that hear cases involving traffic offenses, breaking of city ordinances, and small claims. A municipal court may have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases that are minor, depending on the specific municipality. While some people feel that a municipal case can be handled without legal representation or guidance, anyone who has an issue in this court should consult a municipal attorney who knows the bylaws of the court and the rights of the individual. Because the ordinances differ among municipalities, it is important to understand those that apply in the city where you will be going to court.
The types of crimes that are heard in municipal court are non-indictable, meaning they are not severe enough to result in a prison sentence. For that reason, many people prefer to pay their fines instead of going to the trouble of defending themselves, even though they do not feel they are guilty. While traffic violations, petty disorderly offenses and violations of local laws may appear consequential, they can have an impact on the individual’s life. This is particularly true of traffic violations that are reported to your insurance company. These offenses are measured in points that go against your driving record and cause your insurance premiums to go up.
Some of the types of cases that occur in the municipal court do not even require a court appearance. Traffic violations where an officer has given you a citation in person or where you have been sent a citation through the mail as the result of a traffic camera having recorded the violation can be paid through the mail. The same is true for other non-criminal offenses. The ticket will usually have instructions on how to pay by mail or if you are required to appear in court. Taking the option to pay by mail means that you are pleading guilty to the offense. If you do not feel that you have committed the offense, you have the right to a hearing. A municipal attorney can guide you on your rights and help you gather and prepare evidence in the case.
When a Court Appearance is Required
Any time you are charged with a criminal matter, no matter how minor, you will be required to appear in court. The ticket you receive from a law enforcement officer or through the mail will be marked to indicate that you should report to court. This does not mean that you have the option to go to court, which you always do, but that you are expected to be in court.
When you have your day in court, you should have a municipal attorney on your side to represent you. Even if you are being charged with a violation that carries no risk of imprisonment, you may be at risk of losing your driving privileges or being required to pay a substantial fine. A municipal lawyer will know how to prepare your defense to help you avoid the negative impact the charges against you may have.