New Jersey Criminal Courts

Criminal charges are heard in the Superior or Municipal Courts. An experienced attorney will treat all charges in the same manner. Proper investigation and motion work is essential on felony charges. This same work ethic and practice is even more successful in municipal cases. The sooner an attorney can begin work on your case the more can be accomplished.

Criminal Charges In Municipal Court

The range of information needed if you are charged with a criminal offense cannot be placed on an information sheet. The most common charges are listed below. You should consider retaining counsel as early as possible. There is evidence that is destroyed unless properly requested and preserved. Witness statements need to be preserved as well as the appearance of the scene. If the case is indictable, certain information should be sent to the County Prosecutor that may influence their action on the case.

Jurisdiction

Municipal Courts hear all disorderly persons offenses and municipal ordinances. These are violations that carry less than one year in jail. Any offense that could result in one year in jail or more is a felony and must be heard at the County Superior Court level. However, the County Prosecutor may downgrade the charge and send the lesser charges back to the Municipal Court. An experienced attorney may be able to assist in the process to lessen the charge, or for other tactical reasons may decide that you would benefit by having the case remain at the County level (certain programs available at the County are not available in Municipal Court).

Common Municipal Court Criminal Offenses

Disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses: Disorderly persons offenses carry a six-month possible jail sentence, up to $1000 fine, possible community service and possible probation period (there are some exceptions). Petty disorderly offenses carry a possible jail sentence of 30 days, up to $500 fine, possible community service and possible probation. Both offenses require a $75 SNA penalty and a $50 VCCB penalty and court costs. Normally first convictions only result in a fine.

Common disorderly persons offenses are: 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.

Drug Charges: 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 Municipal Court as a nonpossession charge, such as 2C:35-10(c). First offenders may be eligible for a program that will not result in a conviction; however, this program still carries fines, probation, computer record.

Superior Court Domestic Violence

Retain counsel as soon as possible. Many clients believe that retaining counsel is not necessary until they are indicated by the Grand Jury. This is an extremely dangerous decision. Radio transmissions and crime scene evidence may be lost. Witness statements need to be obtained. The state is required to present exculpable testimony to the Grand Jury only if they have such information. This information may alter a decision to proceed with charges.

A domestic violence charge proceeds extremely quickly. The "burden of proof" for conviction is low and judges side with the complainant. However, the consequences may be dire: A permanent restraining order, support payments pending other Court action, loss of weapons ownership for life. This procedure can also be used to interrogate state witnesses for the more important criminal case.

Superior Court Felonies

A felony is a charge carrying a one-year incarceration. Felonies range from fourth-degree (possession of a knife, distribution of marijuana under 50 grams) to the third-degree theft offenses and second-degree assaults, to first-degree murders. First offense third-degree (three-five years) and fourth-degree (18 months) charges carry presumption of non-incarceration in state prison. Second-degree (five-10) and first-degree (10-20 years) charges presume state prison incarceration. First-degree murder charges carry enhanced penalties as does kidnapping (30 years without parole; death). Numerous statutes carry enhanced penalties in addition to the terms indicated above and mandatory state prison terms. Probation on any charge can result in 364 days in the County jail. Diversionary programs are available for first offenders.

All of these charges require immediate experienced legal attention. The prosecutor's position can be effected by any information. Legally, the prosecutor needs to present the Grand Jury only with information in its possession. Options available to a client decrease the longer the case proceeds. Seek counsel.