Municipal courts usually hear the least serious of offenses. New Jersey’s municipal courts hear violations of : 1) disorderly persons offenses (which are comparable to misdemeanors), 2) motor vehicle offenses, and 3) ordinance violations. As a result, convictions for such violations bring the least serious penalties one can face in a court room.
Disorderly persons offenses are not crimes in the proper sense of the word. As per N.J.S.A. 2C:1-4(a)(1), Classes of Offenses, crimes are offenses which carry a sentence of imprisonment in excess of 6 months. As such, alleged violations classified as crimes are not heard in municipal court.
To the contrary, N.J.S.A. 2C:1-4(b)(1) says “disorderly persons offenses and petty disorderly persons offenses are petty offenses and are not crimes within the meaning of the Constitution of this State.” Thus, disorderly persons offenses can be heard in municipal court.
Common disorderly persons offenses heard in New Jersey’s municipal courts include simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment.
The second type of violation heard in municipal court relates to motor vehicles. New Jersey’s motor vehicle code is found in N.J.S.A. 39:1-1 through N.J.S.A. 39:14-2. One can commit a crime with their vehicle (as in the case of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle), and most motor vehicle offenses subject violators to fines. In some specific instances, such as convictions for driving while intoxicated, a violator can lose their license and go to jail.
Some of the more common motor vehicle violations include: Speeding, failure to produce documents (including a license, registration or insurance card), and careless driving.
The final category heard in municipal court is the ordinance violation. These are local laws enacted by a municipality. When you elect your local council members, you grant them the power to make laws within your municipality, often with the assistance of their in-house attorney. Enforcement of ordinance violations are geared more toward compliance than punishment.
Some of the more common ordinance violations found in New Jersey include allowing a dog to run at large, minor littering offenses, and improper parking on municipal roadways.