legal terms

When it comes to legal jargon, it can be complex! We often hear words like “felony,” “municipal court,” and “expungement,” but what do they mean? As someone facing charges, suing for damages, or applying to have records expunged, it’s essential you know the meaning of common courtroom words. Don’t worry about having to learn everything yourself. An experienced New Jersey lawyer will teach you everything you need to know to successfully understand what is happening in your case. 

Legal Terms – Municipal and Superior Court 

The state of New Jersey has different levels of courts. The lowest level is the Municipal Court system. There are Municipal Courts located in each county in New Jersey. These courts have the jurisdiction to hear cases that happen within the municipality where they are located. In Municipal Court, there are no trials. Each case is heard by only the judge. A Municipal Court judge can give a maximum sentence of six months in jail. They can also penalize through fees and fines. Even though there is no trial or jury, defendants are still given the right to an attorney. 

Appealed cases from the Municipal Court go to the Superior Court system. Superior Courts are divided into three parts: criminal court, family court, and civil court. Criminal cases are heard by the County Prosecutor and the Superior Court Judge. Also, defendants in criminal court are given a jury. Family court is where marriage, divorce, and juvenile cases are heard. Civil Court is where people or companies sue each other for monetary damages. The Civil Courts have three sections: small claims, special civil part, and civil part. The small claims division hears cases where damages are under $3,000. The special civil part is where trials go when damages are between $3,000 and $15,000. The civil part is for cases where the plaintiff seeks damages over $15,000.

Legal Terms – Misdemeanor and Felony

Crimes are classified as either being a misdemeanor or a felony. Each state defines these terms a bit differently, so it’s important to know what they mean in New Jersey. A misdemeanor is also called a disorderly person’s offense. This is the lowest level charge. Disorderly person’s offenses include crimes like shoplifting an item that’s under $200, simple assault, trespassing, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The penalties for a misdemeanor include a maximum of six months of jail time and up to a $1,000 fine. Misdemeanor cases are usually held in the Municipal Court without a trial or jury.

In New Jersey, felonies are classified in different degrees based on the severity of the crime. The cases go to trial in front of a jury. Crimes fall under the umbrella of first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree. First-degree crimes are the most severe of the bunch, while fourth-degree are the least serious. Here are some examples of different crimes and how they are classified:

First-degree: rape and homicide

Second-degree: drug and sex crimes

Third-degree: arson and some DUI charges

Fourth-degree: forgery and some DUI charges

Each level comes with its own range of penalties. Duration of jail time and the amount of fines depends on the degree of the crime. 

Plea Bargain

You often hear the term “plea bargain” in the movies or on legal TV shows, but what does it actually mean? A plea bargain is a way to avoid trial and for the defendant to receive a lesser charge. Typically, the defendant admits to some level of guilt, and they receive a lesser sentence and don’t have to go to trial. There are certain, more serious crimes where plea bargains are not an option. Your attorney will help you navigate the ins and outs of accepting a plea bargain. 

Personal Injury 

Personal injury cases are very common, especially with automobile accidents. After an accident, the injured party may want to sue for damages from the at-fault driver. While this works in many states, New Jersey is a no-fault state. This means that each driver involved in an accident has to use their own insurance policy to cover damages instead of suing the at-fault driver. There are certain exceptions to this rule, but in general, it’s challenging to sue for personal injury damages after a car accident. 

Personal injury cases don’t always involve accidents. For example, someone injured at work due to an employer’s neglect can file a personal injury suit. Another example is if someone slips on ice because a homeowner did not properly shovel their sidewalk. If you think you are entitled to personal injury damages, contact an attorney to discuss your case further.

Legal Terms – Expungement

Expungement is a method of erasing a past criminal record so that you can start with a clean slate. After a certain amount of time after a crime, you can file an application for expungement with the state of New Jersey. If accepted, this wipes your criminal record clean. The process of expungement is extremely helpful for those who want to freely apply for jobs or school without having to report a prior criminal record. Keep in mind, you cannot expunge more severe crimes, such as murder and rape.

Legal jargon is complex! The above five terms are a quick starter guide to get you familiar with court language. A New Jersey lawyer can further help you navigate the ins and outs of legal terms so that you aren’t caught off-guard during your hearing or trial. 

For more information about New Jersey law, reach out to Leon Matchin. Contact Leon by phone at 732-887-2479, or email him at [email protected]. He will set up a free, no-obligation consultation to review your case and go over your options.