How To Defend Yourself On A Simple Traffic Ticket In New Jersey’s Municipal Courts
John Menzel, J.D., has defended people charged with criminal, traffic, drunk driving, and related offenses in New Jersey since 1987. When charged with a simple traffic offense, you may be able to effectively defend yourself without the expense of a legal fee to an attorney.
Most traffic offenses are fairly simple to defend by way of plea bargaining in the municipal court. Indeed, the fines and costs you may suffer are usually less that the legal fee associated with hiring a lawyer to defend you. Therefore, it is often more cost-effective to do it yourself. To learn how, click on these topics:
- What Is a Simple Traffic Ticket?
- What Is NOT a Simple Traffic Ticket?
- Call the Court
- Write the Court
- Plea Bargaining with the Prosecutor
- Protect Yourself from Civil Suits
- If No Deals, Hire a Lawyer
What Is a Simple Traffic Ticket?
Consider defending yourself in the municipal court if you are charged with a simple traffic offense. These are statutes often considered “simple traffic tickets:
- J. Statutes 39:4-82 Failure to keep right
- J. Statutes 39:4-85 Improper passing
- J. Statutes 39:4-86 Passing in a no-passing zone
- J. Statutes 39:4-88 Failure to maintain lane
- J. Statutes 39:4-89 Following too closely
- J. Statutes 39:4-91 Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle
- J. Statutes 39:4-97 Careless driving
- J. Statutes 39:4-98 Speeding (14 miles or less above the speed limit)
- J. Statutes 39:4-125 Improper U-turn
- J. Statutes 39:4-126 Failure to signal turn
- J. Statutes 39:4-127 Improper backing
- J. Statutes 39:4-128.1 Passing a school bus
- J. Statutes 39:4-144 Failure to stop or yield
What Is NOT a Simple Traffic Ticket?
The following traffic offenses are very serious, often leading to large fines, revocation of driving privileges, and jail. Don’t even think of representing yourself! Always get a lawyer for these offenses:
- J. Statutes 39:3-40 Driving with a suspended or revoked license
- J. Statutes 39:4-50 Drunk driving
- J. Statutes 39:4-50.2 Breath test refusal
- J. Statutes 39:4-50.4a Breath test refusal
- J. Statutes 39:4-96 Reckless driving
- J. Statutes 39:4-98 Speeding (15 miles or more above the speed limit)
- J. Statutes 39:4-129 Leaving the scene of an accident
- J. Statutes 39:6B-2 Driving an uninsured vehicle
Call the Court. If you have a simple traffic ticket, call the municipal court before the court date at bottom of ticket. Tell the person taking your call, usually a “Court Administrator,” that you are pleading NOT GUILTY and ask when the next court date will be. Get the name of the person you speak to.
Write the Court. Confirm your not guilty plea and court date information in a short letter to the “Court Administrator” sent to the attention of the person you spoke to, referencing your ticket by the number, which appears in the upper left corner of the ticket. Tell the Court Administration that you are pleading not guilty and requesting discovery.
Write the Prosecutor. Send a separate letter to the “Municipal Prosecutor” at the same address as the municipal court. Your letters to the Court Administrator and Municipal Prosecutor should be identical, except for the name and/or title of the person you are writing to–i.e., the Court Administrator or the Municipal Prosecutor.
Plea Bargain with the Prosecutor. Appear in court on court date and ask prosecutor for one of these plea bargains. They are listed here in order of preference. Expect to pay up to a $200 fine and $30 court costs.
- J. Statutes 39:4-56 Delaying traffic 0 points
- J. Statutes 39:4-67 Obstructing or interfering with traffic 0 points
- J. Statutes 39:4-97.2 Unsafe driving points
(NOTE: If you receive a third conviction for unsafe driving within five years a second unsafe driving offense, the third conviction will carry 4 motor vehicle commission points.)
- J. Statutes 39:4-97 Careless driving 2 points
- J. Statutes 39:4-98 Speeding (1-14 m.p.h. over limit) 2 points
(NOTE: If you are seeking to reduce points for a speeding ticket greater than 2 points, ask that the speed be amended to 9 miles per hour or less above the speed limit to avoid fine enhancements for 65-mile-per-hour speed zones and designated safe-corridors.)
Protect Yourself from Civil Suits. If there was an accident, ask the judge to mark the plea so that it cannot be used in a later civil case.
If No Deals, Hire a Lawyer. If the prosecutor will not deal, ask to have your case rescheduled, saying something like, “This is more complicated than I thought; I’d like time to get a lawyer.” Then get one without delay.
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