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Plea Bargaining In Municipal Court

The practice known as “plea bargaining” is a common one through the courts in Essex County, including in municipal courts like those in Bloomfield and Newark. This method for resolving traffic and disorderly persons offenses in municipal court allows the prosecutor to decide, in his discretion, to downgrade an offense without any need to do so other than to resolve the case as expeditiously as possible. This process is not, however, available with certain categories of charges because of a specific bar set by New Jersey Law in those instances.

The first category of offenses that cannot be resolved using pure plea bargaining are drug charges. Since we are dealing with municipal court drug cases here, what we are referring to are possession of marijuana or hashish, under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, and drug paraphernalia cases. The inability to plea bargain a drug case does not exist with respect to motor vehicle related violations so that a prosecutor is free to utilize the practice when dealing with a N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1 ticket for possession of CDS in a motor vehicle. It should be noted, however, that resolving a case using condition discharge is not considered plea bargaining.

The second type of charge that cannot be plea bargained is one involving driving while intoxicated under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Prosecutors and judge are also prohibited from allowing plea bargaining in first offense breath test refusal cases. Plea agreements that provide for dismissal of second or subsequent refusal tickets are not outlawed and a prosecutor may use this method for resolving cases without the need for any bona fide legal basis to dismiss a refusal offense. He is also permitted to utilize “plea bargaining” to dismiss a school zone drunk driving charge in return for a guilty plea to the related DWI violation.

Notwithstanding what has been said, there is never any limitation to downgrading or dismissal a DWI or drug offense where the prosecutor believes that there is a legitimate doubt concerning his/her ability to prove an individual guilty beyond reasonable doubt. If there truly is an issue that could reasonably go against him such that he/she could lose the conviction, he can place that circumstance on the record in open court and downgrade or even dismiss a violation.

If you have been charged with any offense in a municipal court in Essex County, please do not hesitate to contact our firm at 973-710-1520. A former municipal prosecutor on our defense team will be more than happy to discuss what they believe to be your best options for resolving your charge(s).