Sometimes Superior Court Can Be Better for a Client Than Municipal Court

Although we all believe that a defendant generally will have a better outcome if his or her case is in Municipal Court, rather than Superior Court, that is not always the case. The reason is Municipal Court charges are all in the nature of misdemeanors, even though in New Jersey, we don't use that term. The maximum jail sentence is six months, and the cases almost always resolve with the payment of a fine, court costs, and in some cases restitution. They all are described under the broad term "disorderly persons offenses," rather than crimes. However, unless the charges are dismissed completely, or a defendant is able to plead to a Municipal Ordinance violation (non-criminal), a person who pleads guilty in Municipal Court will have a conviction to an "offense" on their record. There is generally no program in Municipal Court to allow a first time offender to defer the prosecution for a probationary period of time, after which if there is no further law enforcement involvement, the charges can be dismissed. The ironic exception to this is that solely for drug-type offenses there is a diversionary program, called Conditional Discharge, which allows a defendant to be on probation for a period of time, and then if they have stayed out of trouble, and kept their appointments with their Probation Officer, the charges can be dismissed. It makes no real sense to have such a program only for drug- type offenses, when for many of the less serious charges in Municipal Courts, this program is not available.

It is for this reason, lack of a general diversionary program in the municipal courts of New Jersey, that is sometimes a benefit to a defendant to have the case waived up to Superior Court, where, for first time offenders, there is a diversionary program, known as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). PTI is the equivalent of Conditional Discharge. Stay within the law while on probation, and the charges are completely dismissed. This is only one of the inconsistencies or omissions in the Municipal Court system, and is something which should be addressed by the legislature.

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