Do I need to appear in court if I choose to plead guilty and pay the fine?
If the Court Appearance Required box has not been checked and if the charge is listed on either the Statewide Violations Bureau Schedule or the Local Violations Bureau Schedule, you may pay the fine without appearing in court. The Statewide Violations Bureau Schedule is a list of state offenses that may be paid without going to court. The Local Violations Schedule is a list of municipal ordinances that may be paid without going to court. You may pay your fine at the court’s payment window, by mail, by telephone with a credit card (Visa, Mastercard or Discover) or by using the Internet at www.njmcdirect.com. If you pay without going to court, you will be pleading guilty and giving up your right to a lawyer and your right to a trial. Court appearances are always required in criminal matters.
If I can plead guilty without going to court, how much will I have to pay?
The amount of the fine is in the Statewide or Local Violations Bureau Schedules. These schedules are available for review at the Municipal Court office. The Statewide Violations Bureau Schedule is also posted on the Internet at www.njcourtsonline.com.
What should I expect when I go to court?
Prior to entering the courtroom you must go through security. Certain items are not allowed in the courtroom: weapons of any type, cameras, packages and backpacks, handbags and briefcases are subject to search, and cell phones or pagers must be turned off. Once you are cleared through security you will proceed to the courtroom and check in with court staff. If you are represented by an attorney or by the Public Defender, you will be advised to have a seat and wait for your attorney. If you are representing yourself, you will have the opportunity to speak with the Prosecutor. When court begins, the Judge will give an opening statement explaining court procedures and defendants rights and penalties. The proceedings are sound recorded, so please remain quiet until it is your time to speak.
Cases are usually called in the following order:
- Requests for adjournments
- Uncontested motions
- First arraignments
- Guilty pleas
- Contested motions
- Pleas of not guilty (with attorney)
- Pleas of not guilty (without attorney)
What is an arraignment or first appearance?
The first time the defendant appears before the Judge and is advised of the charges against him or her and what the possible penalties can be is called an arraignment or first appearance.
What is an Indictable Charge?
A more serious criminal offense is an indictable offense. Indictable offenses are scheduled for an arraignment or first appearance in the Municipal Court. The charges will be explained and the defendant is advised of his or her rights. These charges are then forwarded to the Mercer County Prosecutor for review. After review, you will receive notice to appear at the Mercer County Superior Court, or if the charge is downgraded and returned to the Municipal Court, you will receive notice when to appear at the Municipal Court.
What is a plea agreement?
A plea agreement is a way to settle a case. Plea agreements are negotiated with the prosecutor, an attorney who represents the state. No plea agreement is permitted for DWI or certain drug offenses. You will be given the opportunity to speak to the prosecutor to try to settle your case. The prosecutor may amend the charge to one that is less serious or lower the points in a traffic case. The prosecutor may recommend that another offense or offenses be dismissed or a specific sentence may be recommended. All plea agreements must be approved by the judge.
What happens if I plead guilty in court?
If you plead guilty in court, the judge will ask questions regarding the offense charged to make sure there are facts to support the guilty plea and to determine that it is voluntary. The judge will then make a finding and impose a sentence. If you plead guilty or are found guilty of traffic offenses in court, the penalties listed on the Violations Bureau Schedule do not apply.
What happens if I plead not guilty?
If you plead not guilty, the judge will preside over a trial to determine whether you are guilty or not guilty. The trial may be held that day, but in certain circumstances it may be rescheduled. There are no jury trials in the Municipal Court. At the trial date, the Judge will take testimony from all witnesses under oath. In a trial, the prosecutor first will call the state’s witnesses (witnesses against you). They will answer the prosecutor’s questions and present any other evidence they have. When the prosecutor is finished with each witness, you, or your attorney, will be permitted to ask them questions about their testimony.
When the prosecutor’s case is complete, it will be your turn to call witnesses and present evidence on your behalf. You may testify, although you are not required to do so. If you testify, the prosecutor can ask you questions (cross-examine you). After all witnesses and evidence have been presented, the judge will decide whether the case has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are found not guilty, the case is over. If you are found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence.
If I am found guilty, what happens after court?
You will be required to pay all monetary penalties, as ordered by the judge. Under certain circumstances, the court may permit you to pay over a period of time. You will be given instructions on how to comply with any other parts of your sentence.
What happens if I need an adjournment?
The Supreme Court of New Jersey has established 60 days as the standard goal to dispose of a Municipal Court case. If you need an adjournment, you MUST notify the court AT LEAST one week before the court appearance date. Adjournments WILL NOT be granted the day of your court appearance. Adjournments WILL NOT be granted if your matter is 6 months or older.
How can I appeal a decision of the court?
A person who disagrees with the decision of a Municipal Court may appeal. That appeal must be filed within 20 calendar days of the court’s decision. Appeals from the Municipal Courts are heard at the county level in the Superior Court, Law Division, The Superior Court Judge reviews the transcript (produced from the audio recording of the trial) and any other evidence or legal papers from the trial and makes a decision regarding the case. New testimony or evidence are generally not admitted for the appeal. The Judiciary has prepared an information packet, “How to Appeal a Decision of a Municipal Court” for persons wishing to appeal a Municipal Court decision. For more information, please visit www.njcourtsonline.com.
What happens when the court’s orders are not obeyed?
People who do not come to court when summoned or subpoenaed, make payments as required, or comply with other requirements of their sentences, face additional punishments including fines, drivers license suspensions, arrest and jail.
What is the Veterans Assistance Project?
The Veterans Assistance Project is a voluntary referral service. Its purpose is to refer veterans who come in contact with the court system and who may be in need of veteran’s services to their Veterans Service Office. Services that may be available can include mental health counseling, addiction services, legal services and housing. The Veterans Assistance Project strives to get services and support for veterans to improve the quality of life for the men, women and families who have made sacrifices in the defense of the United States. For additional information please contact Ewing Township Municipal Court or read online at www.njcourtsonline.com.