First NJ Court Appearance - The Basics
Your first NJ court appearance is a necessary formality. You should not be nervous. The purpose of a first court appearance is simple. By showing up to court, you are basically informing the judge that you are aware of your traffic tickets or that you know about your criminal charges. Think of your first court appearance as a way of checking in. When you show up to your first NJ court appearance, the judge will check your name off his list & give you credit for showing up. When you do this, you avoid getting a bench warrant.
Municipal court judges are very kind & patient. They will explain the criminal charges or tickets you have & inform you of your right to have legal representation. If you do not have an attorney on your first NJ court appearance, the judge will give you 15 or 30 days to hire one. You not be asked about your case or questioned in any way. There is a process & judges are there to make sure that your rights are protected.
The most important thing to remember about the your first court appearance is that you must appear. By showing up for court, you are showing respect for the legal process & demonstrating to the court that you take your legal case seriously.
Preparing for your first NJ court appearance:
Before going to court, take the time to review a few things.
- Find the court address. You want to be on time, and the court may or may not have a parking lot. If you have to park on the street, be prepared to walk a few blocks.
- Dress appropriately. (more below)
- Be prepared to go through security.
- Take all of your paperwork with you
- Take a form of identification
- You do not need to take an interpreter. The court will provide one in any language.
It is best to arrive early to court. Always expect that a line of people will be waiting to go through security. Do not bring any weapons or illegal drugs to court. If you do, the police will arrest you & you will face new charges.
Regarding Proper Attire
You should dress appropriately for the first NJ court appearance. You do not have to wear a suit or fancy dress, but remember what they say about first impressions.
Everything In Court Is Recorded
There are tiny microphones everywhere. Everything that is said will be recorded. Court sessions are recorded in the event that you wish to appeal the court’s decision. Recordings exist to protect everyone involved in a court proceeding. It’s the best way to avoid misunderstandings & confusion about how your case unfolded.
So be careful about what you say while you are sitting in court. There’s a good chance that a microphone is picking up every word.
It’s My First NJ Court Appearance, Can I Take Friends or Family?
Yes. They may sit in the gallery. They should be prepared to sit and wait until your case is called. They cannot read, eat, or drink anything while in the courtroom. And when the judge takes the bench, they must be silent.
Can I Miss My First NJ Court Appearance?
If you miss your first court date, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. In addition, your file will receive a failure to appear (FTA) notation & the court can assess an additional fine. Missing your first NJ court appearance is never a good idea.
If you retained an attorney to represent you, then you can ask your attorney to file an adjournment request. The court will consider your adjournment request & most judges grant these requests. However, adjournment requests should never be abused. Courts keep track of how many adjournment requests a defendant makes & will deny these requests if made excessively.
Of course, there are exceptional circumstances that are out of everyone’s control. If you are in a car accident, or sick, or hospitalized, it is understandable that you would miss your first NJ court appearance. However, prepare to provide evidence of your exceptional circumstance. The court will ask you for it.
If you missed your first NJ court appearance and the judge issued a bench warrant, contact us so that we can help you get it removed. One of our Jersey City clients faced simple assault charges in Hudson county and missed his first three court dates. The judge issued a bench warrant for our client & set a high bail. This meant that if our client got arrested, he would have to post bail to get released. After retaining us, we filed a motion to lift the bench warrant and brought our client to court. We successfully admitted our client into the conditional dismissal program. He avoided jail & getting a criminal record.
Do I Be Questioned At My First NJ Court Appearance?
If you have an attorney, your attorney will speak on your behalf. If you do not have an attorney, the court will ask you if you intend to hire an attorney. The judge will not ask you about your case or any legal defenses that you intend to rely on. The first appearance is not the time for you to tell your side of the story. The resolution of your case is a long process. If you are not represented by a lawyer, it is better to plead not guilty and request time to hire an attorney.
First NJ Court Appearance - Location
The location of your first NJ court appearance will depend on the type of charges you are facing. If you’re facing an indictable offense, then your matter will be heard in county court. On the other hand, if your matter involves a disorderly persons offense (misdemeanor), then your matter will be heard in Municipal court.
If you are facing a disorderly persons offenses, DWI, traffic ticket, or municipal ordinance, then your first NJ court appearance will take place in municipal court. If you were arrested in Hackensack, then your case will be in Hackensack municipal court. If you were arrested in Newark, then your case will be in Newark municipal court. Get the idea?
The municipal prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting you. As your criminal lawyers, we plea bargain with the prosecutor to get you the best result possible. Sometimes, we can get the charges dismissed. Other times, we can work out a plea deal to downgrade your charge so that you avoid jail & pay a low fine. We also consider different diversionary programs that you may be eligible for and work with the prosecutor to get you admitted.
For example, if you’re facing marijuana possession charges and have a clean record, you may be eligible for a conditional discharge. When you successfully complete the program, your charges will be dismissed. It’s like it never happened.
In addition to showing the judge that you are serious about your case, it is equally important for you to appear at your first NJ court appearance so we can show the prosecutor that you are serious. Making a good impression on the prosecutor helps us when we’re negotiating on your behalf.
For example, what will a prosecutor think if your lawyer is in court arguing your case but you didn’t care enough to show up? If your name is called and you are not present during your first NJ court appearance, it makes our job of defending you that much harder.
Will I Be Notified About My First NJ Court Appearance?
When the police arrest you, they will generate a complaint. Your complaint will have all the details about the criminal charges you are facing.
It will contain:
- the jurisdiction (the location where the alleged crime occurred),
- the name of the victim(s),
- the date of the arrest,
- the section of the criminal code,
- and the date of your first NJ court appearance.
However, do not rely on the date contained in your complaint about your court appearance. At our firm, we always contact the court to confirm the details of your first NJ court appearance. Dates are subject to change and we always follow up to make sure that you don’t miss court.
During your first NJ court appearance, the judge will confirm your address to make certain that you will receive notices for all future court dates. As your attorneys, we receive duplicate notices and confirm our attendance with the court.
Do I need an attorney for my first NJ court appearance?
We strongly recommend that you retain counsel before the first appearance. From experience, we know that the sooner we are involved in your case, the more time we have to develop an effective defense strategy.
Also, the process is incredibly stressful. Having counsel at your side goes a long way towards decreasing your anxiety about the process.