Mountainside Municipal Court's duty is to efficiently and expeditiously adjudicate all cases filed within our jurisdiction while providing exemplary service to the public. Mountainside Borough's goal is to provide quality service to the community in an effective, efficient, and fair manner.
Court is held every Thursday at 9 a.m. except the 2nd week of the month, when court is held on Wednesday evening at 5 p.m.
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What is the Municipal Court?
The Municipal Court is a local court created by state law, whose territory is confined to the community in which it is located. Practice and procedures are governed by New Jersey Court Rules. The Municipal Court Judge is responsible for overseeing the administration of his or her Municipal Court. The Assignment Judge of the Superior Court is responsible for overseeing the administration of all of the Municipal Courts in the counties.
There are 21 Municipal Courts in Union County. Each municipality appoints its own Municipal Court Judge. Other court personnel may include a Court Director, Court Administrator, Deputy Court Administrator, Violations Clerk and Sound Recorder.
What Types of Cases Are Heard in Municipal Court?
Cases heard in Municipal Court are divided into four general categories:
More serious offenses, known as indictable offenses, are forwarded to the County Prosecutor's Office. The County Prosecutor decides whether to present the case to a Grand Jury or to return the case to the Municipal Court as a less serious offense (a downgrade).
Do I Need A Lawyer?
You are not required to have a lawyer for a municipal court matter. The decision is yours.
It is important to understand that court staff are interested in answering all procedural questions you may have about how the court will handle your case. However, they cannot offer legal advice or make recommendations to you about your case or recommend a lawyer.
Can I Just Pay the Summons?
Non-criminal matters such as Traffic, Boating, Local Ordinance, Fish and Game, and Parks and Forests violations can often be paid through the mail or at the court office, also known as a Violations Bureau.
If you wish to plead guilty and give up your right to a hearing for such a violation, you may do so, provided "court appearance required" has not been checked on the ticket and provided the charge is listed on the Statewide Violations Bureau Schedule. If the penalty does not appear on the back of the ticket, contact the court office to find out whether a court appearance is required.
To pay your summons, complete the APPEARANCE, PLEA AND WAIVER section on the back of your ticket and bring or mail it with payment in the correct amount, to the Violations Bureau at the address found on the ticket. Payment is due by the court date. Payments received after the court date may be assessed additional penalties.
Failure to pay may result in a suspension of your driving privileges and the issuance of a warrant.
There is a "Drop-Payment Box" available at the court. Payments placed in this box are processed daily. Payments should be placed in a sealed envelope which is also provided. It is important to note that payments are due on the date listed at the bottom on the of your summons, court notice or time-payment order. If payments are not received by the due date, court rules require that additional penalties be assessed, a warrant being issued for your arrest and/or the suspension of your driving privilege.
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When is a Court Appearance Required
A court appearance is always required in criminal matters, such as an assault, shoplifting, harassment or drug charge. In traffic or other matters, if "court appearance required" is checked on the ticket, you must appear in court at the time and place indicated, even if you wish to plead guilty. If "court appearance required" is not checked on the traffic ticket, you must still appear in court if:
How Do I Enter a Plea of Not Guilty?
If you intend to plead not guilty to the offense charged on the summons and you want to have a trial, you must notify the court at least seven days before your scheduled court date. (Address and other instructions can be found on your summons.) If you fail to notify the court, it may be necessary for you to make two court appearances.
It is imperative that the person directly involved with the case, not a friend or relative, contact the court. This will help speed inquiries. It is also imperative that you have your summons/complaint number when calling or writing so that we may be better able to assist you.
What Happens on Your Day in Court?
It is very important that you arrive in court on the day and time stated on your ticket, summons, subpoena or court notice. Before the session starts, or once court begins, roll call is generally taken. If you arrive late, or if your name is not called, you should notify court personnel immediately. You may also wish to check the court calendar posted at the entrance to the courtroom to see if your matter is listed.
At the beginning of the court session, the Judge will give an opening statement explaining court procedures, Defendants' rights and penalties. As each case is called, the Judge will individually advise each Defendant of his or her rights. A case may be postponed to permit the Defendant to hire a lawyer. If the Defendant wishes to go ahead without a lawyer, the Judge will ask for his or her plea. If the Defendant pleads guilty, the Judge will ask questions regarding the offense charged to make sure there is good reason for the guilty plea.
If the Defendant pleads not guilty and all involved parties are present and prepared, the case will proceed to trial. Once the Judge has heard the testimony, he or she will decide if the Defendant is guilty, not guilty or if the case should be dismissed. If the Defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty after a trial, the Judge will impose a sentence.
All Municipal Court proceedings are tape recorded. Please remain quiet. The length of time you will be in court depends on many things. Some cases take longer than others. So, please be patient.
If the Defendant does not appear, a warrant may be issued and his or her driving privileges may be suspended. Witnesses will be notified through the mail when they are to return.
NOTICES OF ADDRESS CHANGES
All parties to a particular case, whether you are the defendant, complainant or victim, must notify the court of any change, correction or addition to your current/ correct address. All notices sent by this court are sent to the address of record. If your address is not correct or complete, you may not be notified of your court date which could result in a bench warrant being issued (If you're the Defendant) or dismissal (If you are the Complainant).
Please make sure that all address changes are made with both Motor Vehicle Services and the Municipal Court.
In What Order Are Cases Called?
The order in which cases are called is controlled by the New Jersey Court Rules. Cases are generally called in the following order:
ARRAIGNMENTS OR FIRST APPEARANCES
The first time the defendant will appear before the Judge to be advised of the charges filed against him or her and what the possible penalties can be is called an arraignment or first appearance. In some instances, only the defendant will be required to appear at that date. If this is the case, an opportunity to present both defendants' and complainants' case will be scheduled for a future date.
In other instances both the defendant and complainant are noticed to appear on that first date. If this is the case, the Judge may proceed with a plea or trial. At this appearance, the Judge may also order all parties to Mediation.
Who are the People Involved?
Complainant: The Complainant is the person who signed the complaint (may be a private citizen or police officer). The Complainant is a witness for the State and will generally be given an opportunity to speak with the Municipal Prosecutor about the case. Once a complaint has been filed, it cannot be withdrawn, and it generally cannot be dismissed without the consent of the Prosecutor.
Defendant: The Defendant is the person formally accused of the violation. The Defendant will be informed of the charges, possible penalties and right to a lawyer. The Defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is always on the State. The Prosecutor must prove that the Defendant committed each part of the offense charged. The Defendant has the right to testify or not testify.
Victim: If there is a trial, the victim may be called as a witness. If the Defendant pleads guilty, no trial is needed, but the victim has a right to address the court before the Judge decides what sentence to impose.
Prosecutor: The Prosecutor is the lawyer hired by the municipality to represent the State.
Public Defender: The Public Defender is the lawyer hired by the municipality to represent those Defendants who cannot afford their own lawyer.
Defense Attorney: The Defense Attorney is the lawyer the Defendant hires to represent him or her.
Witness: Someone who testifies or offers evidence in court.
Who is Entitled to the Public Defender?
A Defendant is entitled to be represented by the Public Defender when:
The Defendant will be required to complete an application form that can be obtained from the court. The court may charge a non-refundable application fee of up to $200. The Judge will review the application and decide if the Defendant qualifies for a Public Defender. Proof of income or employment (tax returns, pay stubs, etc.) may be required.
What is a Plea Agreement?
Before trial, a Defendant may speak with the Prosecutor to try to settle his or her case through a plea agreement.
The New Jersey Supreme Court allows plea agreements to be made within the Municipal Courts, except in drunk driving and certain drug-related cases. It is an agreement between the Defendant and the Prosecutor about how the case will be handled. In exchange for a guilty plea, the Prosecutor may amend the charge to one that is less serious or that may result in fewer points on a driver's license. Certain charges may be dismissed or a specific sentence may be recommended. The Judge must approve all plea agreements.
What Happens During a Trial?
There are no jury trials in the Municipal Court. At the trial date, the Judge will take testimony from all witnesses under oath. The Defendant and his or her lawyer, if represented, will sit at one table. The Prosecutor will sit at the other table. Witnesses may be asked to stay outside the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. The Prosecutor will go first and will present any witnesses or evidence needed to prove the charge against the Defendant. Each witness will either swear or confirm to tell the truth. As each witness for the prosecution testifies, the Defendant or his or her lawyer, if represented, will have an opportunity to ask questions about what was testified to. This is called cross-examination.
Once the prosecution is finished, it will be the Defendant's turn. The Defendant can present witnesses or other evidence to disprove the Prosecutor's case. The Defendant does not have to provide any information and does not have to testify. It is up to the prosecution to prove the case "beyond a reasonable doubt."
When all the witnesses have testified, the Defendant or his or her lawyer may tell the Judge why the case was not proven against the Defendant.
The Judge, after hearing all the testimony and witnesses, will make the decision whether the case has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If the Judge finds the Defendant "Not Guilty," the case is over.
If the Judge finds the Defendant "Guilty," the Judge will sentence the Defendant.
What are the Possible Penalties?
The Judge must follow the law in deciding the amount of any fine imposed. Sometimes there are minimum penalties and mandatory assessments that must be imposed by law. Fines are generally expected to be paid at the time they are imposed.
The Judge may allow the fine to be paid in installments if he or she is satisfied that payment cannot be made in full. You may apply for partial payments by filling out a form. The Judge will then make a decision about your payment arrangements. You will sign a court order that will explain the terms of your payments. Failure to comply with this order can result in a warrant for your arrest and/or suspension of your driving privileges.
The maximum jail term that can be imposed for offenses heard in the municipal court is six months. Sentences are served at the Union County Jail. The Judge may sentenance you to the Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) in lieu of jail.
Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program (SLAP)
SLAP is a community based corrections program which punishes aberrant behavior and emphasizes responsible productivity. It is structured to modify undisciplined, irresponsible conduct through supervised public work and the experience of strict accountability. The screening of non-violent offenders reserves jail space to incapacitate dangerous offenders. It is an alternative to a jail sentence with pre-approved work release or the unnecessary dependence on the reliability of electronic monitoring. The program exchanges the negative influence of incarceration for the positive developement of self-esteem and law abiding citizenship.
Municipal Judges have the discretion to select certain convicted offenders, subject to mandatory terms, for participation in SLAP conditioned upon adherence to program rules and regulations.
Many offenses require suspensions for a minimum period. You cannot drive for any reason until the period of suspension ends, you have paid your restoration fee, and have received written notification from the Division of Motor Vehicles that your driving privileges have been restored. If your license has been suspended for failure to appear, pay fines, or comply with a condition of your sentence, generally it will not be restored until your case is completed. Conditional or special work licenses are not allowed in New Jersey.
Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC)
If convicted of DWI or refusal to take a Breathalyzer, the court must order attendance at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, where the Defendant must satisfy the screening, evaluation, referral, program and fee requirements. Failure to comply with the IDRC guidelines will result in further court action.
By law, the Judge must order community service for certain traffic offenses and may order community service for a criminal conviction. The Defendant must work for a municipality or non-profit organization for a certain period of time without compensation. Failure to perform community service will result in the case being returned to court.
In addition to the penalties imposed by the court for moving traffic violations, the Division of Motor Vehicles will also assess points on driving records. Most violations result in two points, but it can be as high as eight for a single offense. The New Jersey Department of Insurance may also assess surcharges on insurance payments. If a driver's license is suspended for nonpayment of an insurance surcharge, the Municipal Court must file a judgment with the County Clerk's office.
What is Mediation?
The Judge, Court Administrator, or a police officer may suggest that the parties try to settle their differences through mediation. This is a confidential process which allows the parties to meet with a mediator who will aid them in resolving their dispute. You may request mediation before your court date, and the court will decide if your case is eligible. Often mediation takes place on the same day as court. If this is not possible, a future date will be assigned. You may request mediation instead of filing a formal complaint.
Are Interpreters Available?
Please notify court staff as soon as possible if you need a foreign language or sign interpreter. Please be sure to include in your notification any special language dialect required.
What is a Conditional Discharge?
This procedure allows Defendants charged with certain drug offenses to be monitored for a period of time determined by the court. The Judge may require the Defendant to attend drug counseling and have random drug tests. To be eligible, a Defendant must have:
If granted a conditional discharge, the Defendant must pay mandatory assessments, and the Judge may suspend his or her driving privileges. If during the monitoring period no additional offenses have been committed, and there is compliance with all conditions (including satisfying all financial obligations), the original charges will be dismissed.
How is Bail Handled?
Bail is the money or property deposited with the court to obtain the temporary release of a Defendant on the condition that the Defendant will appear in court at every stage of the proceedings until final disposition. (This can be a dismissal, a plea of guilty or a finding of guilty or not guilty.)
Checks and money orders are generally accepted for bail, but must be made payable to the respective court on the warrant. The identification of the person posting bail must match the name and address printed on the check. Checks are not permitted to be accepted on certain charges.
Bail may be forfeited if the Defendant fails to appear for any court date and a warrant may be reissued. It is important that the person who is released on bail knows the exact date and time of his or her court date and appears at that time.
Bail can only be returned to the person who posted it. The bail receipt should be brought to court to expedite the return of bail. It may be possible to apply the bail to any fines or assessments that are imposed by the court if the owner of the bail agrees.
In some minor traffic offenses, a bail waiver may be signed. In this instance, the Defendant enters a guilty plea, gives up his or her right to a trial and authorizes the court to apply the bail posted against fines and costs owed.
How Can I Appeal My Case?
If you do not agree with the court's decision, you may appeal to the Superior Court. The appeal does not involve a new trial. No new testimony or new witnesses may be considered. The Superior Court reviews the transcript of the Municipal Court trial, and the decision of the Municipal Court Judge, and will reverse the decision only if there has been a mistake made regarding the facts or the law.
An appeal must be filed within 20 days of the Municipal Court Judge's decision. A filing fee and transcript deposit is due at that time. Upon request, the Court Administrator will supply all of the necessary forms to be filed with the court office to appeal the decision. You may request that your penalty be stayed (put on hold) pending the appeal. The Municipal Court Judge will decide whether or not to do so.
Municipal Court JudgeFrank Sahaj, Esq.
Municipal Court Administrator Cynthia West, CMCA
Public Defender Ann Marie Bramnick, Esq. (908) 232-2400 x255
Municipal Prosecutor James Foerst, Esq. (908) 232-2400 x255
1385 U.S. Highway 22 East | Mountainside, NJ 07092 | 908.232.2400