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Your Rights in Jew Jersey

“But officer, I wasn’t going that fast”

You’re fighting the morning commute. Bumper to bumper has finally let up so you start cruising along dreaming of that second cup of coffee. The blare of the police siren and the glare of the police car’s flashing red lights jolts you into reality.

You pull right over confident that this display of power is not meant for you. You are gravely mistaken. You prepare a list of explanations including “why was I pulled over?” Before you can present your defenses you are handed a speeding ticket for driving 15 miles over the speed limit. You are certain it could not have been more than 10.

You are headed to municipal court – what are your rights?

The Municipal Court desires that you receive a full and fair hearing. In order to do so you should be aware of the following facts:

  • 1. You are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • 2. You have the right to be represented by an attorney.
  • 3. You have the right to be assigned an attorney if:
  • (a) You are charged with a non-indictable offense and the Judge determines you cannot afford an attorney or
  • (b) You are charged with a non-indictable offense and the Judge determines you cannot afford an attorney and there is a likelihood that if you are convicted you will either go to jail, receive a substantial fine or your driver’s license will be suspended.
  • 4. You have the right to obtain a postponement for a good cause, or to obtain legal counsel and prepare a proper defense.
  • 5. You have the right to call witnesses or have them ordered to appear by the court.
  • 6. You have the right to plead guilty or not guilty to any charge against you.
  • 7. If you are charged with an indictable offense, the Judge cannot ask for your plea because you have the right to a probable cause hearing before the Judge and a trial by jury at the county level if the Grand Jury indicts.
  • 8. There are, however, certain indictable offenses that may be tried by the Judge if you waive indictment and trial by jury in writing. You have the right to be informed if you have been charged with such an offense.
  • 9. When your case is called, please come forward quickly and quietly. You will then have the charges read to you and you may plead “guilty” or “not guilty”. This is not the time to tell your story. You will be given an opportunity to do so at a later time in the proceedings. The only purpose of asking you to plead guilty or not guilty is to determine whether you want a trial and have the judge decide whether you violated the law as charged. If you are in doubt enter a plea of “not guilty”.
  • 10. What happens when you plead guilty? When you plead guilty, it is not necessary to have a trial. You have admitted that you violated the law and all that remains is for the Judge to fix the penalty. The arresting officer or other complainant will explain briefly the circumstances of the violation and you may then explain to the court any extenuating circumstances. The Judge will then assess the penalty.
  • 11. If you plead not guilty, you and the witnesses will be placed under oath to speak the truth. It is necessary for the prosecution to prove the charges made against you before it is necessary for you to answer these charges. You, or your counsel, have the right to ask the prosecutor’s witnesses any questions pertaining to the charges.
  • 12. When the prosecution has finished, you may then present your own witnesses; or testify in your own behalf. You are not forced to testify against yourself, but you may testify, if you so desire. Any evidence you give may be used by either side. If you do testify, the prosecution then has the right to ask you any questions concerning the charges.
  • 13. When all the witnesses have testified, you or your attorney may tell this court why you think you should not be found guilty.
  • 14. If the court finds you guilty, and you think the court is in error, you have ten (10) days within which to appeal. Appeals in practically all instances will be heard by the County Court.
  • 15. Damages growing out of a collision cannot be adjudicated by this court. This court is only concerned with violations of the State statutes and municipal ordinances. Damages are a civil matter and will have to be tried in a civil court.
  • 16. While it is the constant endeavor of the municipality and the Judge to see that no advantage is taken of your unfamiliarity with these matters, they cannot be expected to serve as your legal counsel.
  • 17. Every person has the right to make his own defense without counsel, but if you are in doubt as to the proper course, it is recommended that you consult an attorney.
  • 18. Cases usually will be heard in this order:
  • (1) application for adjournments
  • (2) guilty pleas
  • (3) contested matters with an attorney
  • (4) other contested matters.
  • 19. If you come to court for a traffic offense, and you have not previously notified the court of your intention to plead “not guilty”, speak to the court clerk immediately. If the officer or others involved can be contacted to testify, your case may be heard. If they cannot be reached, you will have to make another court appearance at a later date. If you follow these suggestions, your case can be handled more efficiently.

By Ronald P. Mondello