Municipal Court Opening Statement – American Sign Language (ASL)
August 26, 2019
[Music] [Music] welcome to Municipal Court my name is Judge Louis Belasc. Today’s court calendar will be handled as follows; pursuant to Court Rule attorney matters will be given priority and handled first since many attorneys are required to be in other courts meetings at the same time. The court will then call first appearances, guilty pleas and other summary matters. The last order of business will be trials and other contested matters. All proceedings in this court are recorded. No one should be talking in the courtroom other than court personnel and those addressing the court. Cell phones and pagers should be turned off. You have the right to be informed of the charges you face and the penalties associated with those charges. You have the right to a reasonable postponement for good cause such as consulting with an attorney and preparing a proper defense. You have the right to be represented by an attorney and if you elect not to be represented by an attorney for charges which may result in a jail term loss of your driving privileges or penalties in excess of $800 I will ask you questions to satisfy myself that you are giving up the right to be represented by an attorney knowingly and intelligently. You have the right to a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford to hire your own attorney and if a you face A: jail term B: a loss of driving privileges C: penalties in excess of $800 and you qualify financially. You must complete a form which ask questions about your income and your assets and you may be asked to supply proof of your income assets and expenses. If you apply for a court-appointed lawyer there is a one-time application fee of up to $200 which the court can reduce or eliminate for a good cause. You have the right to remain silent. It is a constitutional right no one can force you to testify or make a statement on your own behalf or call witnesses or offer any defense. If you choose not to testify it will not in any way factor into my decision as to whether you are guilty were not guilty of the offense charged. You are presumed innocent unless and until you are proven guilty. The prosecutor is the attorney who represents the state and presents the cases to the court. In most cases the prosecutor must prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt it is never your burden or obligation to prove your innocence. You may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty to your charges. If you enter a plea of guilty you will be giving up your right to a trial and your right to remain silent. I will then ask you questions about what happened to establish what is called a factual basis and other questions to satisfy myself that you are knowingly and voluntarily giving up your right to a trial, that you are guilty of the charges and that you have knowingly and intelligently decided to proceed without an attorney if you are not represented by an attorney. You may offer any explanation that you think is important to your case and which may affect the sentence that is imposed. If you plead not guilty you then have the right to have a trial where you or your attorney may call or subpoena witnesses on your behalf and you may testify or make a statement if you choose to do so. If you have a trial I will explain the trial procedures to you before the trial begins. The court has jurisdiction over all traffic offenses that occur in this municipality along with offenses called disorderly persons offenses punishable by up to six months in jail and to a $1,000 fine and petty disorderly persons offenses punishable by up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. Certain drug-related offenses carry additional mandatory penalties and a possible loss of your driving privilege for up to two years. I can also impose a probationary term with conditions such as counseling, community service, restitution or drug screening. The court also hears local ordinance violations. These are violations of local municipal laws and fish-and-game violations and weights and measure violations. If you possess a commercial driver’s license the Motor Vehicle Commission may suspend your commercial driver’s license if you plead guilty to or are convicted after a trial of certain serious traffic offenses committed in your commercial vehicle or your personal vehicle. Plea-bargaining is permitted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in most cases except certain drunk driving and drug related offenses. This means that except in those cases you may speak to the prosecutor about how your case may be resolved. A plea agreement may result in an amendment of your charge to a less serious offense or possibly one that carries no motor vehicle points or fewer motor vehicle points, a dismissal or merger of some charges or a specific fine jail term or other sentence recommendation by the prosecutor. The prosecutor will generally consult with the officer who has issued the summons or complaint, any victims and may review your motor vehicle record or criminal history in connection with any plea agreement. You should know that if you plead guilty or are found guilty of a charge that could have been paid through the mail or online, the court is not bound to impose the same fine and cost as you would have originally paid. Instead, the court may impose the maximum fine and cost allowed by statutue. If I find that you have acted in a willful manner, I have the authority under the law to suspend your driver’s license in addition to imposing fines and cost in addition to any penalties that I may impose for motor vehicle convictions. Additional penalties may be assessed by the Motor Vehicle Commission such as points for moving violations like speeding or careless driving, surcharges for certain types of convictions where the Motor Vehicle Commission may suspend your driver’s license. The court is linked to the Motor Vehicle Commission via computer so any convictions from this Court are reported to the Motor Vehicle Commission upon data entry. If you are an out-of-state driver the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission will report any conviction to your home state Motor Vehicle Commission which may impact on your driving privileges in that state. If you are in court to contest a parking offense be advised that you do not have the right to remain silent and neither a prosecutor nor the officer issuing the ticket has to personally appear unless I would or otherwise. The proceeding regarding parking offences is considered civil in nature and you do not have the right to a public defender and the proof of your guilt need not be established beyond a reasonable doubt. I may rely on three facts A: an appropriate parking offense is detailed on your summons, B: it sufficiently identifies the vehicle involved and C: that the vehicle according to the Motor Vehicle Commission was owned or registered by you on the date and the time of the offense. Therefore it is your obligation to tell me under oath why you should not be found guilty. It is not a defense that you never received the parking ticket or that someone else actually parked the vehicle illegally. You as the owner of the vehicle are primarily responsible. You are not restricted in your right to allow family or friends to use your vehicle but if they do and they receive a summons which they do not advise you of that will not be a defense. You may have a claim against the actual offending driver for reimbursement in the Superior Court. In parking violations your statement denying your guilt alone may not be sufficient to prove your innocence and your best proofs may be photographs or videos of the location and signs in question. If you need time to obtain photographs or videos you can request a short adjournment for that purpose. Fines and costs are due on the day of sentencing. If you are unable to pay your fines in full today you may be able to pay your fines in installments or you may seek other relief from the court. You may be required to complete a financial questionnaire that I will review on the record before an installment order will be granted. You have twenty days in which to file an appeal if you are not satisfied with any decision or sentence of this Court. Neither the parties nor the court may however enlarge the time for the filing of an appeal. Your appeal will be heard in the Superior Court and in most cases the Superior Court judge decides the case based upon the record that we are making called a transcript. An appeal packet is available in the court office. If you are not a United States citizen and if you plead guilty to or are convicted of certain offenses heard in the Municipal Court including some motor vehicle offenses it may result in your being deported from the United States or it may prevent you from being readmitted to the United States if you leave voluntarily or it may prevent you from ever becoming a naturalized American citizen. You have a right to seek advice from an attorney about the effect of a guilty plea will have on your immigration status. A special note for military veterans, a program called the veterans assistance project exists to provide veterans with referrals to community-based resources for services relating to housing, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, financial aid, legal services, education and veterans benefits including possibly mentoring by another veteran. Our court staff can provide you with a brochure describing the program and an application staff also can help you with completing the application. If you have any questions that I have not answered please do not hesitate to ask when your case is called.