Do you need a lawyer in Municipal Court?

As indicated on our website, there are numerous charges that are heard in the Municipal Courts in the State of New Jersey. These range from low level motor vehicle violations such as going through a stop sign, careless driving, failure to maintain your lane and other charges that generally carry very low fines and two or less motor vehicle points. If you have been charged with any motor vehicle violation that carriesmore than two motor vehicle points upon a conviction, we suggest that you obtain the advice of counsel before going to court.  The purpose of this blog post is to provide the reader with some information as to whether or not they need legal representation in Municipal Court on a low-level motor vehicle violation that carries two or less motor vehicle points.

As most citizens of New Jersey know, municipal prosecutors will, generally, as a matter of course offer a “no point” or “zero point” violation as part of a plea bargain if you are charged with one of these low-level motor vehicle violations. As most citizens of New Jersey also know, the monetary cost of these “no point” or “zero point” violations are rather excessive in that you are required to pay a $250.00 surcharge for this “privilege.” The statute which provides this “no point” plea is called the unsafe driving statute. The basic theory in accepting a “no point” or “zero point” plea bargain is to potentially avoid motor vehicle points on your license in order to keep your auto insurance premiums lower and, potentially, to avoid the suspension of your driving privileges where you are in danger of accumulating 12 motor vehicle points which will result in a temporary suspension of driving privileges. Because most municipal prosecutors offer this unsafe driving type plea as a matter of course on traffic violations that carry a punishment of two or less motor vehicle points, you generally do not require the services of a lawyer to negotiate this plea bargain on your own behalf.

However, it should be pointed out that there are a number of situations in which your acceptance of such a “no point” or “zero point” plea bargain may adversely affect your rights without your knowledge. One such situation is where you have already previously pled guilty to unsafe driving on more than one occasion. Your third guilty plea to unsafe driving within a certain period of time will subject you to four motor vehicle points when you may be under the mistaken belief that you will not be receiving any motor vehicle points. Another such situation where you potentially will need legal representation is where the low-level motor vehicle violation is the result of a motor vehicle accident. Under these circumstances, a guilty plea in Municipal Court may be utilized against you in the event you are sued civilly by the other driver. Finally, if you are a “provisional” license holder you are not entitled to enter into a plea bargain for a “zero point” unsafe driving violation and, as such, other arrangements will need to be negotiated on your behalf.

The bottom line is that, regardless of what type of motor vehicle violation you are charged with, you should seek the advice of an attorney before appearing in Municipal Court by yourself and entering into a plea bargain which, although may seem relatively harmless at first because “everyone’s doing it,” may subject you to other legal ramifications of which you were not aware.

Typically, when we receive a call for a motor vehicle violation, we initially attempt to obtain as much information as possible from the potential client to determine whether or not they will require legal representation given their individual circumstances. From a lawyer’s perspective, the last thing that we want is to have a client pay a substantial fee for representation on a low-level traffic violation only to have the client realize at the time of the court hearing that they could have obtained the same plea bargain from the municipal prosecutor that we have just negotiated for them after paying us our legal fee.

Accordingly, please feel free to contact to discuss your individual situation to determine whether or not legal representation is required.