First of all, you should know that’s it not just municipal court. Although New Jersey’s local court system handles lesser type offenses, judges do have power. That extends to not just setting fines, but also ordering jail time. In essence, you should really think twice before you agree to plea bargain.
More than likely, you already know the types of cases that go to municipal court. For starters, most traffic offenses are heard before a local judge. This includes a great number of DWI cases. Additionally, municipal court judges preside over cases involving simple assault and smaller shoplifting charges. In a prior article, we also provided you with some examples of other cases that are heard in municipal court.
You might think that you can go in to talk to the prosecutor on your own. And, there is no one stopping you from essentially setting up your own plea agreement. Notwithstanding, the prosecutor does not represent you. More often, it makes more sense to retain an attorney with experience in municipal court to advocate on your behalf.
Plea Bargaining in Municipal Court
Is this the first time you have received a summons or ticket to appear in municipal court? If so, you will most likely be surprised at the number of other defendants in the courtroom. Certainly, each and every accused person is entitled to a trial. However, can you imagine how long it would take for a judge to conduct a full hearing for every case?
Obviously, time is important to all parties involved. You should know that the court is also expected to clear its calendar as expeditiously as possible. As you might surmise, you will be given the opportunity to enter a guilty plea or profess your innocence as charged.
The consequences of a guilty plea could mean assessment of fees, fines, community service or even incarceration. For that reason, you might be tempted to risk the outcome of a trial. Or, perhaps consider speaking with the municipal prosecutor about a plea bargain.
The New Jersey State Bar Association Foundation offers a simple definition of the term plea bargain. It is “an agreement between you and the prosecutor allowing you to plead guilty to a lesser offense, combine certain offenses and/or dismiss certain offenses. A plea bargain may result in a lesser fine or other penalty.”
Restrictions on Plea Bargaining
You may wonder why prosecutors would even entertain the idea of negotiating with defendants. In the first place, it makes the court process move quicker for all involved parties. In some cases, it may involve dropping some charges in exchange for a guilty plea on a lesser charge. Notwithstanding, the prosecutor’s decision to accept a plea agreement is subject to court approval. Notably, some charges are exempt from the process in municipal court. These include:
- Matters involving driving under the influence of drugs
- Cases where the charges include driving while intoxicated by alcohol
- Plea bargaining to downgrade certain other driving offenses is limited to three times
Once again, it is important to speak with an attorney who is experienced in negotiating municipal court pleas. This will help you better understand if you should go forward with a trial or attempt a plea arrangement.