Whether you are new or experienced with the New Jersey courts, understanding the ins and outs of the system is essential to navigating any legal issue. Every legal case is unique and managed differently by the court system. As in many state-level judicial branches, there are many levels to the court system, and each court division handles specific types of legal cases. Understanding the court system will help you decide when you need to contact an attorney.
Levels of New Jersey Courts
The New Jersey court system has two branches: the Supreme Court and the Superior Court. The Superior Court also includes the Appellate Division, the Tax Court, and the Municipal Courts.
Municipal Courts in New Jersey hear six out of seven cases in the state. Examples of cases heard here include motor vehicle offense, simple assault, trespassing, shoplifting, or other minor disputes. Municipal courts handle your case if you have a case related to hunting, fishing, or boating laws. The municipal courts operate in the city, township, or county where they reside. The New Jersey Court system has 539 municipal courts.
If your case is assigned to the Superior Court, the case likely involves criminal, civil, or family law. Often this level of the court system is referred to as Trial Court. The Tax Courts are also part of the New Jersey Superior Court system. Here, Tax Court judges review the decisions of county boards regarding taxation of property. These judges also check the State Board’s decisions on income, sales, and business tax.
When you or your lawyer disagree with the outcome of your court case, you can file an appeal in the Appellate Court Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. With appeals, a panel of two to three judges reviews your case and the evidence. Here, your lawyer will make their case to the judges.
Once the Appellate Court has reviewed your case, further appeals must be made to the state Supreme Court. If you and your lawyer disagree with the outcome once Appellate judges have reviewed your case and made a decision, the Supreme Court is the only system that can review the issue further. Supreme Court judges review cases from the entire state and interpret unclear or conflicting laws.
Types of Court Cases
Criminal cases involve a defendant accused of a severe crime such as robbery, drug possession, or murder. These cases are heard in the Superior (i.e., Trial) court system, and the prosecution includes an attorney representing the state of New Jersey. While criminal cases can be heard in a trial, they can also be resolved with a plea bargain.
A jury of twelve citizens makes the final decision for criminal cases in trial. A Superior Court judge oversees the proceedings and ensures both defense and prosecution follow the law and rules of the court. Once the evidence and witnesses have been presented, the jury discusses it in private and returns a verdict. If the decision is guilty, the judge then imposes the sentence.
Civil lawsuits occur when the plaintiff claims their personal property, physical body, reputation, or rights were injured by the defendant. These civil court cases are heard in the Superior Court and often are centered around car accidents, medical malpractice, discrimination, contract disputes, or landlord-tenant disagreements. Juries consist of six New Jersey citizens for civil cases that go to trial.
The New Jersey Superior Court hears court cases for family matters, with the decision-maker being a judge rather than a jury. Family cases include disputes involving children, spouses, and domestic partners. For example, divorce, adoption, juvenile delinquency, child abuse, domestic violence, and child support cases all go to Family Court. When cases involve children or minors, the judge can also choose to close the court proceedings to the public.
The Tax Court hears tax-related cases and include a review of the county or state boards of taxation decisions. In addition, the Tax Court decides cases centered around sales, income, property, or business taxes.
In New Jersey, there are two Appellate Courts for appeals: the Appellate Division of Superior Court and the Supreme Court. When attorneys disagree with the decisions of cases heard in the Superior Court, they can appeal the case in the Appellate Court. Appellate Courts review lower courts’ findings while taking into account the New Jersey and the United States constitutions and laws and statutes enacted by the State Legislature.
Additional Information About New Jersey Courts
Jury Selection & Jury Duty
There are several other essential pieces of court proceedings in addition to understanding the types of courts and cases in New Jersey. First, Trial Court cases require jury selection and jury duty. Jurors are called for jury duty randomly from the county’s pool of registered voters and licensed drivers.
There is a specific naming convention if you are searching for a case in the New Jersey courts. Law case names are the plaintiff’s name first, then “versus,” followed by the defendant’s name. For example, a case where Jill Brown is suing Jack Smith would appear as Jill Brown v. Jack Smith (or Brown v. Smith).
If a judge chooses, they can impose probation as part of the plaintiff’s sentence. Typically, first-time offenders receive probation in cases involving non-violent crimes. This sentence allows the offender to serve their sentence in the community under the supervision of a probation officer.
Hire a New Jersey Courts Lawyer You Trust
If you or a loved one is handling a legal issue, working with an experienced lawyer is essential. Leon Matchin has more than ten years of experience working in the New Jersey courts. Whether your case involves a criminal charge, traffic offense, or other charge, Leon is here to support you through the entire court process. Contact the Law Offices of Leon Matchin for a free consultation today at (732) 887-2479 or email [email protected]!