The shelf life of a New Jersey municipal court case defends upon the type of charge (traffic or criminal) and whether the matter is likely to resolve via plea bargain or trial. One of the most important things a defendant can do is to determine the date of his/her first appearance or arraignment. The first date can usually be found on the traffic summon itself or on the face of the criminal complaint/warrant. It is important to check these documents carefully to locate the date. Failing to appear may result in the issuance of a bench warrant. Many times, a defendant neglects to thoroughly read the paperwork and misses the first court date. It is not an excuse that you did not realize the court date was on the ticket or complaint.
The first appearance in the municipal court is typically called an arraignment. On this occasion, the judge will inform the defendant of his rights and ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. The defendant will be given an opportunity to apply for the public defendant if desired. If the defendant is pleading not guilty, then the case will be rescheduled to a later date. This is called an adjournment. If the defendant hired counsel prior to this first appearance, the lawyer will have submitted a letter of representation and a discovery demand, and it may not be necessary for the defendant to appear on this occasion (check with your lawyer). Otherwise, the accused must appear. Notice of subsequent appearances is received by both the defendant and his/her attorney. It is important to verify your mailing address with the court for this reason.
The second court appearance will usually take place 30 to 45 days later. At this point, the case may have a trial marking or a conference setting. The defendant or the defendant’s attorney will have an opportunity to discuss the case with the prosecutor and see if a plea agreement can be reached prior to trial. If any motions were filed, they are typically done so prior to this appearance. Those motions may be heard on this occasion. If discovery has not been received , the court may reschedule the case and order discovery be provided in a time set by the court. If the case had been marked for trial and no plea agreement has been reached, and both parties are ready to proceed, then it will go forward. If not, the case may be rescheduled again. There are a number of different reasons why an adjournment request may be necessary. It depends on the particular case and the attendant facts. However, if a plea bargain occurs, this will mark the end of the case.
Many times, municipal court cases are rescheduled on multiple occasions for discovery issues. For example, DWI cases are supposed to conclude within a 60 day time period. However, if the case is complicated, or if the State had not provided all the requested documents, the case can far exceed the 60 day shelf life. This scenario does not apply just to DWI cases. Although other matters may not have a 60 day boundary, the discovery issues remain the same. On some occasions, speedy trial demands are made which puts the court on notice that the defendant is asserting this constitutional right.
As a general rule of thumb, any municipal court matter, traffic or criminal, will last around 60 days. In some circumstances, municipal court cases can last as long as 6 months or more. It really just depends on the particular case.
This is really an over-simplified synopsis. I would highly recommend that you consult an attorney prior to any court appearances and before speaking with the police. The scheduling and appearance requirements could vary drastically depending on the facts of your case and the parties involved. It is best to “be in the know” and ask a lawyer.