THE NEW JERSEY CRIMINAL COURT SYSTEM

Federal and State Courts administer criminal justice in New Jersey. Federal Courts have jurisdiction over multi-state offenses and violations of the U.S. Criminal Code. New Jersey State Courts have jurisdiction over violations of New Jersey Criminal Statutes and violations of municipal ordinances.

Federal trials are heard before the Federal District Court. Appellate matters are heard before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. These matters can be taken before the U.S. Supreme Court.

State charges are heard at levels based upon the seriousness of the offense. Municipal Courts may hear traffic offences, disorderly, petty disorderly offenses and municipal ordinances. Appeals may be taken to the Superior Court Trial Division. Superior Courts hear felony charges at the trial (County) level. Decisions may be appealed to the Superior Court Appellate Section, (a three judge panel). The Supreme Court, (a seven judge panel), may review the Appellate Court rulings.

All criminal statutes, as well as the disorderly and petty disorderly persons offenses are found in the second New Jersey Criminal Code, known as 2C. All citations will be written as 2C: and then the numbered Statute. For example, Homicides are 2C: 11; Assaults 2C: 12; Sexual Offenses 2C: 14; Theft Offenses 2C: 20; Drugs 2C: 35; Weapons 2C: 39. A felony is any offense where the sentence may be over 364 days in jail.

MUNICIPAL COURT

Each town in the State has their own Municipal Court. The Mayor appoints the prosecutor and the Judge for specific terms. They therefore may be less independent than prosecutors and Judges at higher levels.

Municipal ordinances are town laws passed by the town council. They cannot be offenses covered by State law. Examples are public intoxication, causing a disturbance, licensing a dog, and a host of other town regulations. Unless the ordinance specifies a different penalty, town ordinances carry a maximum $1000 fine and 30 days in jail.

Petty disorderly offenses carry a maximum 30 days in jail and $500 fine. Examples are harassment, offensive language and lewdness. Disorderly Persons offenses carry a maximum $1000 fine and 180 days in jail. Examples are Marijuana possession under 50 grams, paraphernalia possession, simple assault, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, shoplifting and petty theft.

Traffic offences range from equipment violations to DWI. These statutes are found in the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code Title 39. Violations are written 39: and then the number of the statute. N.J.S. 39:3 are equipment or document violations; 39:4 are moving violations; 39:6 are insurance violations. They may carry various fines, suspensions and sometimes jail time. The Court does not assess motor vehicle points or insurance points. The Division of Motor assesses points based on the disposition in the Municipal Court. The Insurance Companies base their points on the Court’s decision as well.

SUPERIOR COURT

The Governor appoints the Superior Court Judges and County Prosecutors for seven-year terms. Judges are then reviewed and reappointed until they retire. The Prosecutors in turn appoint full time assistant prosecutors.

All felony charges are heard by the Superior Court. New Jersey has four felony levels. Fourth degree felonies carry up to 18 month in state prison and $10,000 in fines. Examples are small amount Marijuana distribution, credit card theft, theft over $200 and possession of a knife. Third degree felonies have a 3 to 5 year state prison range and $15000 in fines. The fines for third degree drug charges are higher. Examples are possession of drugs not marijuana, burglary, aggravated assault with significant injury and theft over $500. First time 4th and 3rd degree offenses carry a presumption against state prison but may receive up to 364 days in the county jail as a condition of probation.

Second degree offenses have a 5 to 10 year state prison range and $150,000 in fines. Examples are robbery without a weapon, possession of a handgun, theft over $75,000, eluding police, aggravated assault with serious injury, drug distribution over 14 grams, school zone cases, and sexual assaults. Drug offenses carry higher fines. First degree offenses have a 10 to 20 year prison range and $200,000 in fines. Examples are manslaughter, certain arsons, attempted murder, and drug sales over 5 ounces. Again drug charges carry higher fines. Murder, Kidnapping and Rico charges are also first degrees offenses but have 30 to life sentences. 1st and 2nd degree charges carry a presumption of state prison. Also all crimes of violence carry an 85% parole ineligibility.