Articles Posted in Municipal Court

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defense-attorney-840062__340-300x237In December of 2017 New Jersey’s then-Governor Chris Christie signed off on several pieces of legislation to help those with criminal histories turn their lives around and become more productive members of society. For example, Governor Christie signed off on a bill barring employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history during the initial job application process. Around that same time, he also enacted a law to alter the requirements for individuals to be eligible for an expungement of their criminal records. Those changes took effect as of October 1, 2018.

An expungement of criminal records generally has the effect of causing the arrest, conviction and/or any related proceedings to be deemed not to have occurred. In most cases, a person who has had her records expunged may answer “no” to any questions relating to whether an arrest, conviction, or any such proceeding occurred. There are a few exceptions. For instance, in a job application for a position with the court (judicial branch); in an application for another expungement, or to a court in relation to accepting the person into a treatment or other diversion program, the fact of an expungement and the criminal history may still need to be disclosed. However, the records are not made available for any type of background check in other instances (such as for private employment).

The new changes to New Jersey’s expungement laws include several significant alterations in the eligibility requirements for expungements. For instance, an individual used to have to wait 10 years to expunge a felony conviction. That has now been reduced to 6 years. There is also an early pathway for such expungements if the applicant can establish that the expungement is in the public interest, and in consideration of the nature of the offense and the character of the applicant. That early pathway was available previously, and remains in place with a waiting period of only 5 years. Also, the waiting period for expunging juvenile offenses was also reduced from 5 years to 3 years.

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drinking and driving.jpgWhile driving under the influence is a traffic violation under NJSA 39:4-50, the procedure is very different from that followed for any other traffic violation, and there are significant penalties associated with an arrest for driving under the influence.

At the time of your arrest, the officer will give you a ticket which is called a “Summons and Complaint.” In the Summons and Complaint, there will be a Notice to Appear which requires you to appear in the local municipal court on the date and time specified. This first appearance is called the “arraignment.” If you are not represented by an attorney you must appear in court on the date and time specified. The judge will then advise you of your rights and read the charges against you. At that time, you must enter a plea to the charge: either guilty or not-guilty. If you plead guilty you will be convicted of driving under the influence (or “DUI”), the municipal court will then suspend your license and driving privileges, and require you to tender your license to the clerk of the court. There are additional penalties (see the above link for significant penalties), including additional fines and surcharges, required attendance in classes through the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, installation of an interlock device and potential jail time. An attorney can be valuable in helping to receive the minimum sentence possible and navigate this complex area of the law to protect your rights. If you want to plead not guilty, you should either contact an attorney prior to the arraignment date, or appear on at the arraignment and request an adjournment. Then contact an attorney as soon as possible.

If you have retained an attorney to represent you prior to the arraignment date, the attorney can waive your appearance at the arraignment and enter your plea by written submission to the court. The attorney will then request discovery from the prosecutor. Under New Jersey DUI law, this requires the municipal prosecutor to give you all the evidence and anything relevant to your charges. This is extremely important and is the best way to determine if the charges brought against you may be successfully fought in court. If the discovery shows that the law officer violated your rights or failed to follow the procedural requirements your attorney may be able to get the charges dismissed at trial. This is an important and strategic reason to retain legal counsel right away for your DUI/DWI charge.

While driving under the influence trials are not heard by a jury, you are entitled to a bench trial. At the trial, the municipal judge will listen to the evidence presented by your DUI attorney and the municipal prosecutor and make a ruling on your case. The State – ie. the municipal prosecutor – has the burden of proof and must prove that you drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can cross-examine the witnesses presented by the State, including the arresting officer, and you can offer your own witnesses, usually a DWI expert. You are permitted but not required to testify on your own behalf. If you are found guilty at trial, you will be convicted and sentenced by the judge.
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typing.jpg In the last several years, many states have passed laws prohibiting cyber-harassment, cyber-stalking, and cyber-bullying to reflect the evolution of today’s society which, more and more, is becoming centered around electronic communications.

While New Jersey has been a strong advocate of anti-bullying and harassment laws, it has only recently passed a law which specifically criminalizes cyber-harassment. The law was considered to be, in large part, a reaction to the increase in the number of teens who have committed suicide after suffering online harassment. It passed both houses of the state legislature unanimously and was signed into law shortly thereafter by Governor Christie.

This law makes cyber-harassment a crime of the fourth degree, unless the harasser is 21 years old or older and the targeted person is a minor. In that case, it is considered a crime in the third degree. New Jersey’s Criminal Code provides that a third degree crime may result in 3 to 5 years of imprisonment if convicted and a fourth degree crime may result in up to 18 months of imprisonment. The law specifies that these crimes could also be penalized by either a $10,000 fine (for a fourth degree offense) or a $15,000 fine (for a third degree offense) either in addition to or instead of the jail time.
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Thumbnail image for 800px-Community_Service_Work_Detail_for_35th_District_Court_Northville_Michigan.jpgUnder New Jersey criminal law, the Pretrial Intervention Program, commonly known as “PTI” provides first-time offenders with the opportunity for an alternative to the ordinary criminal justice prosecution. PTI provides rehabilitative services to deter future criminal behavior. The program is based on a rehabilitative model that recognizes that there may be a casual connection between a charged offense and the rehabilitative needs of a person. The ultimate goal of PTI is to prevent future criminal behavior.

The best benefit of successfully completing PTI is that there is no record of conviction and an individual can avoid the stigma of a criminal record. Additionally, many of the costs associated with the formal court process can be eliminated. However, acceptance into and completion of the PTI program does not remove an arrest from individual’s record. Instead, successful completion of the PTI program will result in the dismissal of the original offense. Therefore an individual who successfully completes the PTI program should still seek to an expungement to remove any record of the original arrest. Failure to successfully complete the program will result in the case returning to the ordinary course of prosecution.

To be eligible for the PTI program, a defendant must be charged with an indictable offense. The program is designed for individuals who have no previous convictions and have never been granted permission into any other diversionary program or discharge. An individual seeking entry into the PTI program must be an adult resident of New Jersey. Individuals charged with criminal or penal offenses in New Jersey criminal or municipal courts can apply.

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stock-photo-885748-fingerprint-record-with-ink-pad.jpgGovernor Chris Christie signed a new legislation, Bill A-2598/S-2588, establishing a diversionary program for “minor” offenders in New Jersey municipal court matters. This law will take effect in January 2014 allowing conditional dismissal of disorderly persons (criminal offenses with sentences of less than six months) and petty disorderly persons (criminal offenses with sentences of less than 30 days) offenses for eligible defendants in certain circumstances. This law will operate similarly to the pretrial intervention program offered in the Superior Court.

The new law will allow eligible participants to enter into a one year probationary program and pay restitution, court costs, fines, and any other mandatory or discretionary assessments. Defendants will then be required to either plead guilty in New Jersey Municipal Court or there must be a finding of guilt to enter into the program. Entry into the program, however, will be before the entry of a conviction. The successful completion of the program will result in the dismissal of the criminal charges. Completion of the program will not be deemed a conviction for the purpose of any future prosecution. So in essence, the conviction is with wiped away when the defendants successfully completes the program.

People seeking entry into this program must have a clean criminal history. The program will apply to most, but not all criminal offenses tried in New Jersey municipal court, including disorderly conduct, simple assault, harassment, criminal trespass, underage gambling offenses, shoplifting, underage alcohol possession or use, and obstruction of justice. Individuals charged with gang activity, official breach of public trust, domestic violence, intoxicated driving, animal cruelty, and offenses against the elderly, disabled or minors are not eligible for this program. Courts must also consider eligibility factors such as the nature of the offense, a defendant’s background, and the victim’s wishes before entry into the program is permitted.

Individuals charged with a criminal offense who are eligible for this program may only be permitted into the program once. Similarly, prior participation in another diversionary program renders people ineligible for this program.

Those permitted entry into the program must pay a seventy-five dollar fee. Other fees and assessments may be waived or payment plans may be implemented at the discretion of the municipal court judge.
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799px-Parking_ticket_-_Washington_DC_-_2011-08-25.jpgNew Jersey’s traffic laws protect people and provide safety to motorists and pedestrians. Alleged violations of traffic laws are when people most often come into contact with the court system. McLaughlin & Nardi’s New Jersey attorneys regularly represent people fighting traffic tickets in New Jersey’s municipal courts.

Once you are issued a ticket you should never argue with a police officer. A police officer’s responsibility is to issue a summons, commonly referred to as a ticket, when the police officer believes that you committed a violation of the law. You should wait until your day in court when a judge or will decide if you did, in fact, violate the law. Your court date will typically be just days from the date you receive your summons.

The first scheduled court date is known as the arraignment. The arraignment is when the Court will inform you of the charges that have been filed against you and ask you how you plead. The typical answer is not guilty, guilty or no contest (typically in non-criminal matters.)

In most cases you should plead “not guilty” and consult with an experienced New Jersey attorney who can obtain discovery (i.e., evidence) which the state and the prosecutor will rely upon to prove that you are guilty (that you committed the offense you were charged with.)
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Many people in New Jersey ask, “I had a small party at my house and one of my guests drank alcohol and later got into a car accident, am I liable?” New Jersey homeowners also ask, “Can I get in trouble serving alcohol to a minor?” The short answer to both is yes.

In recent years society has become less tolerant of drunk driving and underage drinking, with many organizations taking on active roles in politics resulting in the passage of stringent laws related to alcohol. New Jersey is no exception. There is a strong public policy in New Jersey against serving minors and intoxicated adults.

First, hosts in New Jersey should be aware to never serve minors any alcohol. In New Jersey serving alcohol to a minor is disorderly persons offense and, depending on the circumstances, can also be a more serious criminal offense of endangering the welfare of a minor.

Further, in 1987 New Jersey passed a law on “social host liability,” making a host liable for injuries to a third-party for a guest’s actions if the host serves a guest, twenty-one years of age or older, alcohol when that person is “visibly intoxicated.” Therefore, if you serve alcohol in your home you should be aware of signs of intoxication, and, if they exist, you should immediately stop serving any “visibly intoxicated” person alcohol.
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New Jersey law provides a “fresh start” or “clean slate” to people who made a mistake in the past, but turned their lives around and become a productive citizen by effectively clearing their records of arrests and convictions. These are called in New Jersey “expungements.”

Why Get an Expungment?
Expungements remove the obstacles which a criminal record can place on getting many jobs. An expungement allows someone to legally say an arrest or conviction never happened.

It is routine today for employers to do criminal background checks on job applicants – or even current employees. An expungement removes this as an obstacle to employment. (There are exceptions – for instance, the convictions must still be disclosed in applications for jobs with the judiciary or law enforcement, or to become a licensed attorney; the conviction may not be a bar, but it must be disclosed in these circumstances.) Arrests and convictions can keep an applicant from getting a job, or cause a current employee to be fired. Many professional licensing boards, such as for nursing, will reject applicants with certain criminal records. An arrest or conviction could cause an application to college or graduate school to be rejected. Many sports or community organizations reject volunteers with arrests or convictions. A criminal record may keep a person from adopting a child. A criminal record can also hurt the chances of joining the military. Finally, it removes the stigma of a criminal record from a good, productive citizen.

What New Jersey Convictions Can be Expunged, and When?
Most New Jersey crimes can be expunged.
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