New Jersey's Municipal Courts

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A municipal court is a local court.

Have you ever traveled by the municipal court in your town and wondered what people do there? Municipal courts play an important role in our communities.

A municipal court is a local court.

A municipality is a city or town. Can you name the municipality where you live? New Jersey has 566 municipalities. Almost every city or town has a municipal court, which is the office of the government that hears court cases about local problems. Some smaller towns or townships might share a municipal court. The court in a small town has a court room where a judge hears cases and an office to handle the paperwork. A court in a big city might have lots of court rooms and offices.

Municipal courts hear certain kinds of cases.

Municipal courts have limited jurisdiction. That means that they only handle certain kinds of court cases. Municipal courts handle parking and traffic tickets. Sometimes those tickets are called violations or offenses. They also handle drunk driving cases. In the courts, drunk driving is called DWI, for “driving while intoxicated.”

Municipal courts also handle small criminal cases. Those cases are called disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons cases. The courts call them “dp’s” and “pdp’s” for short. For example, stealing a purse is a dp. Starting a fight in a public place is a pdp.

Each municipality also has local laws, called ordinances. An ordinance could be a local law that says how late loud music can be played in the town. People who violate an ordinance must go to municipal court.

There are no juries in municipal court.

Municipal court cases are decided by judges, not juries.

Besides the judge, the municipal court also has an administrator. The administrator runs the office and makes sure everyone has the right paperwork and knows when to come to court.

The municipal court also has a prosecutor. The municipal prosecutor is a lawyer who tells the judge about the facts of the case that show which laws or ordinances each defendant has broken. The defendants can plead guilty or plead not guilty to what the prosecutor has accused them of doing. They will have the chance to tell their side of the story.

Many speak for themselves in municipal court, instead of using a lawyer.

Many people in municipal court tell their side of the story without the help of a lawyer. Usually, the kinds of laws that are addressed in municipal court are simpler to understand, and it is fairly easy for a person to explain his or her side of the story directly to the judge.

In some cases, the defendant could go to jail if he or she is found guilty. Those defendants almost always want to have a lawyer to help them. If they do not have the money to pay a lawyer, the court will make sure they have a public defender. The public defender is paid by the town to help defendants who cannot pay a lawyer. That way everyone can be sure the defendant has a fair chance in court.

Defendants who are guilty often pay fines.

People found guilty of a traffic or parking violation might have to pay a fine as punishment. Often people who are guilty of a local ordinance violation need to pay a fine too. Those who are found guilty of a dp or a pdp offense might also have to go on probation. They do not go to jail, but someone from the courts will check on them often to make sure they are staying out of trouble. Defendants who are found guilty of certain crimes might go to jail.

Some people with traffic or parking tickets don’t go to court at all.

The municipal courts receive more that six million cases a year. But not all of those cases go to trial in front of the judge. Many people who receive traffic or parking tickets choose to plead guilty. They can pay the fine without having a trial. They will either send a check, or they will go to the municipal courts’ website and pay the fine with their credit card.

The municipal courts are an important part of New Jersey’s many cities and towns. They help make sure that everyone is following the laws and ordinances that keep our communities safe and enjoyable places to live. Ask a parent to point out your local court the next time you go by it. You will know that inside are many people working to protect our safety, our property and our community.

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