New Jersey Judicial Branch

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In New Jersey, there are several different kinds of courts. They include the New Jersey Supreme Court; the Superior Court, which includes the Appellate Division; the Tax Court, and the Municipal Courts.

Contents

Superior Court

Cases involving criminal, civil and family law are heard in what is known as the Superior Court. The Superior Court is sometimes called the trial court because it is where trials are conducted. There is a Superior Court in each of New Jerseys 21 counties. There are approximately 360 Superior Court trial judges in New Jersey.

Criminal Cases

Criminal cases are those in which a defendant is accused of a serious crime, such as robbery, theft, drug possession or murder. In a criminal case, a prosecutor tries to prove that the defendant committed a crime. The prosecutor is an attorney who represents the State of New Jersey, and the defense attorney represents the defendant. The judge oversees the proceedings and ensures that they are conducted according to the law and the rules of court.

Most criminal trials are decided by a jury consisting of 12 citizens. The jury represents the community in which the crime occurred. The jury's role is to hear the evidence presented by the prosecutor and the defense attorney. Evidence is presented to the jury by witnesses who testify.

After all the evidence has been presented, the jury discusses the case in private. If all the jurors believe the evidence proves the defendant committed the crime, the jury convicts the defendant by returning a guilty verdict. After a defendant is convicted, the judge imposes a sentence, such as a term in prison.

If the jurors do not believe the evidence proves the defendant committed the crime, then the jury acquits the defendant by returning a verdict of not guilty. If the jurors are unable to decide between conviction and acquittal, the judge can declare a mistrial, and a new trial can be held with different jurors.

Not every criminal case is decided by a trial. Many cases are resolved through a plea bargain. In a plea bargain, the defendant agrees to plead guilty by admitting that he or she committed a crime. In return, the prosecutor asks the judge to impose a sentence that is less severe than if the defendant had gone to trial and been convicted. The judge, however, is not required to agree to the recommendation and may choose to ignore it. A plea bargain ensures that a guilty defendant is punished. Plea bargains can be entered either before or even during the trial.

Civil Cases

Civil lawsuits are cases in which a plaintiff claims that he or she has been injured by the actions of the defendant. In jury is a legal term meaning any harm done to a person's body, property, reputation or rights.

In some civil cases, the plaintiff seeks damages, or money, from the defendant as compensation for injuries allegedly caused by the defendant. Examples are cases involving car accidents; age, race or gender discrimination in the workplace; medical malpractice; defective products; differences over the terms of contracts, and disputes between landlords and tenants. Civil juries consist of six members.

Not all civil cases, however, involve attempts to receive compensation for injuries. People also file lawsuits to enforce their rights. In New Jersey, these kinds of non-monetary lawsuits are called General Equity cases. A General Equity case may involve a terminally ill person s right to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment, or a dispute between labor and management over rights in the workplace, or even a company s ability to protect its trade secrets, such as how it makes or markets a product.

Instead of money, the plaintiff in a General Equity case may ask the court to order the defendant to do something: remove a feeding tube, for instance, or end a strike and return to work. General Equity cases are decided by judges instead of juries.

As in criminal cases, the parties in civil cases often agree to settle their disputes without a trial. Settlements may occur before a trial starts or even during a trial. A settlement allows each side to resolve the dispute satisfactorily rather than risk losing at a trial.

Family Cases

Family cases are civil cases in which the disputes involve children, spouses or domestic partners. Examples of family cases are those involving divorce, adoption, juvenile delinquency, child abuse, child support, and domestic violence. Most cases in the Family Court are decided by a judge instead of a jury.To protect the privacy of children, judges are permitted to close some types of Family Court cases to the public.

Tax Court

Tax Court judges review the decisions of county boards of taxation, which determine how much a property should be taxed. Tax Court judges also review the decisions of the State Division of Taxation on such matters as the state income tax, sales tax and business tax. There are 12 Tax Court judges in New Jersey.

Appeals Courts

When people do not agree with the outcome of their cases in the trial court or Tax Court, they may appeal their case to a higher court. These higher courts are called appellate courts.

Appellate courts review the decisions of lower courts to determine whether those decisions were correct under the law. In reviewing lower-court decisions, appellate courts, like the trial courts, interpret the New Jersey and United States constitutions. They also interpret statutes, or laws enacted by the the State Legislature.

Appellate review helps to ensure that our courts and laws are fair. It is one of the hallmarks of America's legal system.

There are two appellate courts in New Jersey: the Appellate Division of Superior Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Appellate Division of Superior Court

In the Appellate Division, cases are reviewed and decided by panels of two or three judges.There are no juries or witnesses in Appellate Division cases, and no new evidence is considered. Instead, lawyers make their legal arguments to the judges.

In reviewing a case, Appellate Division judges ask hard but important questions: Did the evidence support the jury's verdict? Were the attorneys competent? Was the judge fair and impartial? Did the judge properly explain the law to the jurors? There are 36 Appellate Division judges in New Jersey.

New Jersey Supreme Court

If either side in a case is unhappy with the outcome in the Appellate Division, it may appeal the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court in New Jersey. The Supreme Court reviews the decisions of New Jersey's other courts.The Supreme Court, like the Appellate Division, often must interpret laws that are unclear or that conflict with other laws. For example, when does one person's right to protest interfere with the privacy rights of the person who is the target of the protest? When may the police search someone's home or car? What did the Legislature intend when it enacted a particular law?

In the Supreme Court, cases are decided by a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. As in the Appellate Division, there are no juries or witnesses, and no new evidence is considered. Instead, the Supreme Court examines whether the proceedings and outcomes in the lower courts were fair, unbiased and conducted in accordance with the law, and whether the outcomes were correct under the law.

Municipal Court

By far, most of the cases filed in New Jersey's courts are heard in the Municipal Courts. In fact, about six million of the seven million cases filed in New Jersey's courts each year are filed in the Municipal Courts.

The Municipal Courts hear a great variety of cases. Municipal Court is where cases involving motor-vehicles offenses, such as illegal parking, speeding and driving while intoxicated, are heard.

Municipal Courts also hear cases involving minor criminal offenses such as simple assault, trespassing and shoplifting. In New Jersey, these minor crimes are known as disorderly persons offenses. Cases involving hunting, fishing and boating laws and even minor disputes between neighbors are also heard in Municipal Courts.

Municipal Courts are operated by the city, township or borough in which the courts are located. There are 539 Municipal Courts in the state. [1]

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