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This website is devoted to bringing you information about the traffic laws in the State of New Jersey. Here you can find information about tickets, fines, points, surcharges, and more.

Prosecutors, Plaintiffs, Defendants, oh my!

When it comes to the Municipal Court, there are several people involved. Here's what they do:

Court Dates- what is each one for?

If you are going to plead not guilty, or your offense is considered "court appearance required," you will have to go to court. Although each Court runs things a little differently, there are generally three times you will have to appear.

First Appearance Date

The first appearance date is just that - the first time you will have to appear in Court (there's a shocker!). The judge will first advise all of the defendants in the Court room of their rights. Then, you will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to your charges.

Pre-trial Conference Date

A pre-trial conference date is the date you appear in Court solely for the purpose of speaking with the Prosecutor to negotiate a plea agreement.

Trial Date

If you are unable to reach a plea agreement with the Prosecutor, you will receive a trial date. As the name implies, a full trial concerning your violation is conducted on this date.

More about your First Appearance date

This is the date that is written on the bottom of your ticket. This date is the lowest-stress of them all. The only thing you are required to do on this date is enter a plea, meaning that you must plead either guilty or not guilty. That's it. This is how your day will go:

When you first arrive in Court, check with the clerk or the court officer to find out if you need to check in. Once Court begins, the judge will inform everyone of their rights. He will explain that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, has a right to a lawyer, etc. Once he does this, everyone in Court must advise him of their plea- either guilty or not guilty.

Do not try to explain to the judge your side of the story, why you don't think you should have been charged, or anything like that. You may only do that on a trial date. If you try to do so during your first appearance, you may anger the judge, and he will only tell you to save it for your trial.

If you enter a plea of guilty, the judge will remind you that there may be defenses to your charge, that you have a right to retain an attorney, etc. If he is satisfied that you are fully aware of your rights and that you are willingly waiving them, he will accept your guilty plea and determine your sentence. That is, he will decide your fines and penalties. If he orders any penalties in addition to fines such as surcharges, community service, mandatory driver safety programs, etc., you will receive info on those things as well.

If you got a ticket and wanted to just pay it, but couldn't because the charge was "court appearance required," you can now tell the judge that you wish to plead guilty. Once you do, you can receive your sentence your ticket and be done with it.

If you enter a plea of not guilty , you will be given a new Court date for a pre-trial conference. If you know ahead of time that you are going to enter a not guilty plea, you may be allowed to enter your plea ahead of time so that you don't have to come to Court. Some Courts will only allow this if you have retained a lawyer and they submit a letter to the Court documenting that they have advised you of your rights and you wish to enter a not guilty plea. Some courts will not allow it at all. Call the Court well in advance of your Court date to find out what their procedures are.

Plea agreements and your pre-trial conference 

When most people plead not guilty, they do it so they can have a pre-trial conference to speak with the Prosecutor. The prosecutor can offer you what is known as a plea agreement. A plea agreement (also known as plea bargain, plea deal, or "copping a plea") is where you, as the defendant, are given an opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge or to the original charge with a recommendation of a lesser penalty.

For example, let's say you were charged with a 4 point speeding ticket. The prosecutor may allow you to downgrade it to a 2 point ticket. If you have a 2 point ticket, you may be allowed to downgrade it to a no point violation.

Some violations might not carry any points, but will carry a hefty surcharge. Therefore, you may have to decide whether you'd rather have the points with the lesser fine (keeping in mind that the points will probably drive up your insurance rates significantly), or no points but a larger fine. It seems unfair, but let's face it, that's the state we live in.

What is the purpose of a plea agreement?

The plea agreement system works to everyone's benefit. Defendants benefit from accepting a plea because they usually receive a lesser penalty than what they were originally charged with. Prosecutors, Judges, and the Courts in general benefit from plea agreements because they can avoid conducting lengthy trials for each and every offense that is contested.

Is a prosecutor required to offer me a plea agreement?

No. In most cases, it is in the prosecutor's interest to offer a plea agreement. However, he is not required to. He may decide not to offer a plea based upon any number of factors, including the nature of the charges, input from the victim or the issuing officer, the defendant's prior driving history, etc.

In the same token, a judge is not bound to accept the plea agreement negotiated between the defendant and the prosecutor. If the judge feels that the terms of the plea were unfair or too lenient, he may adjust the penalties or reject the plea altogether.

What if we can't reach a plea agreement?

If you can't reach a plea agreement, the matter will be scheduled for a trial on another date.

What happens on my trial date?

A full trial of your matter will be conducted. The issuing police officer or plaintiff will appear in Court, and will be called to testify on the stand as a witness to establish a "factual basis" of what had occurred that caused them to file the complaint against you. Any other witnesses that they have to support their case will testify as well. You have the right to cross-examine these witnesses and ask them questions about what occurred. You have the right to testify to tell your side of the story. You also have the right against self-incrimination, which means that you have the right not to testify. Once you do testify, however, the State or the Plaintiff (or Counsel for the Plaintiff, if they have a lawyer) have the right to cross-examine you.

It is strongly recommended that if you go to trial, you retain a lawyer on your behalf. If you cannot afford one, apply to the judge for a public defender. Representing yourself at trial can be the legal equivalent of walking off of a cliff. It is extremely difficult to represent yourself and the consequences of not doing so may be severe.