Like many citizens, you may go through life with little or no contact with New Jersey's court system. But for those who do have such contact, it is very likely with the municipal courts.
Although I cannot guarantee any result in municipal court, I am always able to get discovery from the prosecutor and examine the evidence against you. The standard of proof in a municipal court is the same as it is in a murder trial - beyond a reasonable doubt.
In many cases, the prosecutor simply does not have enough evidence to meet that burden of proof.
When faced with such a situation, the prosecutor will want to plea bargain a charge to a less serious offense in order to avoid trial.
That being said, a defendant's decision to plea bargain or to go to trial is a serious one and should only be made after a consultation with the lawyer.
Everyone has a right to a trial, and it is the client's decision to waive his/her right to that trial and agree to plead guilty to a lesser offense.
Nevertheless, many clients who do plea bargain walk away from a municipal court satisfied, because he/she has avoided the worst-case scenario.
Even if an offense risks can potentially lead to jail time or a license suspension, in many cases those outcomes can be avoided.
Municipal courts in New Jersey handle traffic violations ranging from the simplest parking ticket to serious offenses that may lead to loss of your driver's license. (That's especially serious if you live in New Jersey, where it's hard to get anywhere without a car!)
Municipal courts also handle violations of the criminal laws from disorderly persons' offenses to offenses that could be indictable, and/or lead to jail time.
Municipal courts also handle matters arising from complaints filed by citizens, rather than the police. Those matters typically involve disputes between neighbors or family members.
Even though those cases are technically criminal matters, they are not handled by the prosecutors. A litigant who files a citizen's complaint will usually retain counsel to act as a private prosecutor for the case.
That lawyer cannot represent the client on a civil matter against the defendant on the same dispute for ethical reasons.
In those situations, a different attorney can represent on the civil matter.
Some municipal court matters are so simple that most litigants might be comfortable handling them without a lawyer. However do not be fooled by the relative informality of the municipal court compared to the superior court.
Have you ever watched any of the popular courtroom shows on daytime TV? If you have, then how many times have you seen a litigant, confident in the strength of his/her case, only to find out he/she lacked the evidence to prove the facts or established a defense?
Municipal court matters can be tricky in this way. Without a lawyer, can you really be sure you will be prepared to present the best evidence that you have?
So what can an attorney do for you? My services include all of the following:
1. Telephone consultation with client
2. Office consultation with client
3. Offer sound legal advice to client
4. Preparation of letter of representation to municipal court
5. Preparation of letter of representation to municipal court prosecutor
6. Preparation of statement to provide legal services
7. Copies of all correspondence to court and prosecutor to client
8. Opening of file
9. Review of necessary statutes and case law
10. Follow up with municipal prosecutor for discovery if suspension or jail is likely
11. Prepare defense and mitigating factors
12. Miscellaneous correspondence and preparation and drafting of pleadings and legal documents in contested serious cases
13. Review documents supplied by client and court
14. Travel to municipal court
15. Negotiations with the prosecutor and representation in municipal court
16. Preparation of end of case letter and client questionnaire
17. Follow up telephone advice [If you call, provide the specific questions with the message]
18. Hold and maintain file for 7 years in storage as a free client service
The legal work includes research, correspondence, preparation and drafting of pleadings or other legal documents, conferences in person and by telephone with you and with others, dictating and reviewing letters, negotiations, and any other related work or service to properly represent you in this matter.
For most simple municipal court matters, I can arrange flat fees. However, I may charge hourly rates for DUI matters, private prosecutions, or any matter that involve risk of loss of driver's license or jail time.
In short, the municipal courts are in many ways the most important courts in the state. Just because your case is in municipal court does not mean it's not serious! You need a lawyer who will treat your case that way.
If you have a matter in municipal court, or are thinking about filing one, contact me in my Parsippany office for a FREE consultation.
Arthur David Malkin, Esq. offers reasonable rates
FREE consultations are available.