Is a court date a trial date?
Please take note that the court date mentioned on the summons is not a trial date, it is merely the date in which the summons must be answered, either by payment or a personal appearance in court. If a person has been charged with an offense to which he/she wishes to plead "not guilty" or wishes to speak to the municipal prosecutor, it is necessary to call the court to schedule a court date. Once you have notified the Court of your intent to plead not guilty you will be scheduled for "case management". You will be notified of the hearing date via regular mail, therefore, please make sure to advise the court of any address changes. When you appear in court for case management you will be able to speak to the prosecutor and he will advise you of a possible plea agreement. The prosecutor does not have to offer an agreement or if he/she does you do not have to accept it. If this occurs the Judge will then advise you of your rights and penalties that may be imposed for your violation and the case will be rescheduled for trial via mail. Please take note that on your trial date you should bring any witnesses or documentation that you will rely on to present your defense.
Defendants who reside out-of-state may request to defend themselves by affidavit. The defense by affidavit is used only for traffic and ordinance violations that do not carry penalties of great consequence. A telephone call to the court will be necessary to determine whether a person is able to dispose of the matter in this fashion.
Once a determination has been made that an affidavit is appropriate, the court will forward the necessary form to the defendant. The form is a simple form on which the defendant explains the circumstances surrounding the offense and returns the notarized document to the court prior to the scheduled court date. A person who uses this approach waives his/her right to appear in court and cross examine any witnesses. The judge will make his decision based on the information provided by the defendant and the complaining witness. The defendant will be notified by mail as to the Judge's ruling.
What is warrant and bail?
A warrant is an order by the Judge to law enforcement authorities to arrest an individual and bring him / her to court. Warrants are ordered when an individual fails to answer a summons by a given court date, if the person being charged presents a risk of flight, or failure to comply with a court order (i.e. payment of fines or conditions imposed as part of sentencing).
The bail amount is set by the judge when a warrant is ordered. The purpose of bail is not to punish but to insure a defendant's appearance in court for all scheduled appearances until the case is disposed. Bail can be posted by the accused or a surety (someone other than the accused who becomes responsible to insure the accused appears in court).
Bail can be posted in the form of cash, check, money order or bond. Other types of bail are ROR (Released on his/her Own Recognizance) or 10% bail option. These options do not have to be offered as the Judge Determines what is appropriate for each case. In addition, if a warrant is issued for failure to pay fines a Cash Purge (cash only) warrant will be issued. If a defendant fails to appear after bail has been posted the bail / bond will be forfeited and a new warrant will be issued.
At the disposition of the case, bail posted in the form of cash can be applied to penalties with the authorization of the surety. If the use of bail money is not authorized, the bail will be returned to the surety.
What if I cannot afford an attorney?
Defendants charged with offenses that carry potential penalties of consequence may wish to be represented by an attorney. If a person feels they cannot afford one but would like to have legal representation. An application for indigency must be completed and presented to the Judge for review. The judge will determine if a person is eligible based on guidelines established by the state. An application fee of $0 - $200 will be assessed if the application is granted.
What are the methods of payment?
Fines may be paid by cash, money order, personal check or credit cards (Visa or MasterCard only). When fines are assessed in court, depending on the amount of the fines and your financial situation, installment payments can be arrangement. If an installment plan is approved, an initial payment or good faith payment is recommended.
How do I contact the prosecutor?
The municipal prosecutor represents the State usually on complaints that are issued by law enforcement officers. Persons wishing to speak with the Prosecutor must contact the Court first to be given a scheduled court date.
In the case of citizen complaints, the municipal prosecutor only represents the citizen complainant when the named defendant is represented by an attorney.
What if I fail to appear in court?
All summonses, whether traffic, criminal or ordinance violations must be answered either by payment or a personal appearance in court. If a person fails to respond by the date shown on the summons, the court must take further action.
If the violation charged is payable a failure to appear notice is sent to the defendant. An additional $10.00 penalty is assessed and the defendant is warned that a warrant will be issued and driving privileges will be suspended in New Jersey and most other states if payment is not received by the date shown on the notice.
If the violation charged requires a personal appearance in the court and the defendant fails to appear, the judge will order that a warrant for arrest be issued and a bail amount will be assessed.