What is a Municipal Court?

Posted by: James Dudley on Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Chances are that if you own a dog, drive an automobile, rent or own your home in New Jersey, you will come into contact with a Municipal Court.  As the name implies, Municipal Courts in New Jersey are the type of courts that have jurisdiction (the power to hear and determine a case) within the geographical boundaries of a municipality.  For example, if a person driving a car in Newark, N.J. was issued a ticket for speeding, then the municipal court for the city of Newark would be where that person would have to appear for a trial on that charge.

New Jersey Municipal Court Violations

Municipal courts are courts of law, created under Article Six, Section One of the Constitution of the New Jersey.  Municipal courts are courts of “limited jurisdiction”, which means only certain kinds of cases can be tried in them.  "Subject matter jurisdiction" is the other type of jurisdiction that municipal courts have.  A simple example is a municipality with a leash law.  You will go to municipal court when this law is violated.

Currently, under New Jersey law the general subject matter jurisdiction for municipal courts is the following:

a. Violations of county or municipal ordinances

b.  Violations of the motor vehicle and traffic laws

c.  Disorderly persons offenses, petty disorderly persons offenses and other non-indictable offenses except where exclusive jurisdiction is given to the Superior Court;  

d. Violations of the fish and game laws

e.  Proceedings to collect a penalty where jurisdiction is granted by statute

f.  Violations of laws regulating boating

Your Rights in New Jersey Municipal Court

Because of such consequences, you have all of your legal rights under the United States Constitution in municipal court.  The Constitution gives you the right to have an attorney.  It also includes the right to confront any witnesses who testify on behalf of the prosecution.

The prosecutor is the attorney who acts on behalf of the municipality and will be presenting its case before the judge.  Therefore, the prosecutor is not your attorney.  Because you do not get a trial before a jury, only the judge will take testimony, examine evidence and render a verdict.

Municipal courts do not have jurisdiction over indictable offenses, that is crimes of the first degree, second degree, third degree and fourth degree.  However, many types of conduct can result in you being charged with a violation of some ordinance, regulation, or law.  For example, a person charged with driving while intoxicated, simple assault or even failure to maintain your residential property, will be appearing in a municipal court to answer that charge.

For more information, contact james@wileylavender.com