What is the Difference Between Superior Court and Municipal Court?

Trying to determine whether you need to appear in Superior Court or Municipal Court for an arrest in Somerset County can be confusing and at times, overwhelming.

Have you been arrested and charged with a criminal offense in Somerset or Hunterdon County? Not sure what court to appear in to defend the allegations? If so, you are not alone. New Jersey has basically three primary courts that handle criminal matters: Superior Court, Municipal Court and Juvenile Court. Determining which court will have original jurisdiction over the charges can be complicated. Typically speaking, Municipal Courts will have original jurisdictions over all disorderly persons, petty disorderly persons, borough ordinances and traffic offenses that occur within the township’s borders. Superior Court will have original jurisdiction over all indictable (felony) matters that occur within the County’s borders. Juvenile court will have original jurisdiction over all juvenile matters that either occur within the County’s borders or where the juvenile is a resident of the County. So the key to determining which court will have jurisdiction over the charges is determining the degree of the charges that you are facing. Here is a breakdown of each court and what to expect if you have been summonsed to appear in one to answer for criminal charges.

How Does Superior Court work in Somerset County?

All individuals arrested and charged with an indictable offense, regardless of the degree will automatically have their criminal charges transferred from the local municipal court to the County Superior Court for disposition. Once the charges are transferred to the County Courthouse it will then be up to the county prosecutor’s office how the charges are handled. Most individual’s will have their initial Central Judicial Processing hearing with 48 hours of being arrested. At that point, bail will either be set or a formal detention hearing will be set to determine if the individual is entitled to bail. Once bail is sorted out, the case will be given a Pre-Indictment Conference date and if the matter can not be worked out during that hearing it will be marked for the Grand Jury. If the Grand Jury chooses to indict the individual, the matter will proceed through traditional court proceedings, i.e. arraignment, status conferences, motion practice, plea/trial and sentencing if applicable.

FAQ about Superior Court:

  • Does Superior Court only handle felony offenses?
    • Yes, Superior Courts in New Jersey will only preside over felony matters. That includes all first, second, third and fourth degree offenses.
  • What are common Felony Offenses Charged in Somerset County?
  • Do I have a right to a Bench Trial or Jury Trial?
    • Yes, in Superior Court, it will be the Defendant’s right to either have a Bench Trial or Jury Trial.
  • What if I live in Hunterdon County but am charged in Somerset County?
    • The Superior Court in the county where the incident occurred will have jurisdiction over the charges regardless of where you may live.
  • Will I be entitled to Bail if I am charged with a Felony?
    • Possibly, New Jersey follows a risk-assessment based bail system. That means that even if the prosecutor’s office refuses to agree upon a bail, an individual cannot be held without bail unless a detention hearing is conducted and a Judge makes specific findings on the record in order to detain the individual.

How Serious is Municipal Court in New Jersey? Do I need a Lawyer?

All disorderly persons, petty disorderly persons, borough ordinances and traffic matters will be litigated in the local municipal court in the municipality where the incident occurred. For example, if an individual is arrested in Bridgewater Township and charged with simple assault and harassment, their charges will be sent to the Bridgewater Municipal Court for disposition. That is because simple assault is considered a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey. However, if the individual is charged with aggravated assault in Bridgewater, the charges will be sent from the Bridgewater Municipal Court to the Somerset County Superior Court in Somerville for disposition since aggravated assault is a felony offense. It is important to note here that if the individual is charged with simple assault (disorderly persons offense) and aggravated assault (felony) stemming from the same incident, all charges will be transferred to the Superior Court for disposition. Although the severity of the charges handled in Municipal Court are arguable less sever then those handled in Superior Court, the potential penalties if convicted of a disorderly persons offense can be significant, including up to six months in the county jail.

FAQ about Municipal Court in NJ:

  • What is a Disorderly Persons Offense?
    • Disorderly Persons Offenses are New Jersey’s version of a misdemeanor.
  • What are some common offenses litigated in Municipal Court?
  • Do I get a Jury Trial in Municipal Court?
    • No. A defendant is not entitled to a Jury Trial in Municipal Court, there only option is a Bench Trial.
  • Can I go to Jail in Municipal Court?
    • Yes. Depending on the charges, a Municipal Court Judge can impose up to a six month jail sentence.
  • Which Municipal Court do I have to appear in?
    • The municipal court in the municipality where the incident occurred will be the only court that has jurisdiction to hear the charges.

How Does Juvenile Court work in NJ?

Anyone under the age of eighteen that is charged will a criminal offense, regardless of the degree will have their charges litigated in the Chancery Division, Family Part of the County’s Superior Court. In other words, their case will not follow the same rule of thumb as the adult system. To further complicate things, typically all juvenile charges will be heard in the Chancery Division, Family Part of the Superior Court of the county where the juvenile resides. However, if their are co-defendants involved and they live in different counties, then the county where the incident occurred will retain jurisdiction. Like adult charges, the County prosecutor’s office will be in charge of prosecuting the charges and not the local municipal prosecutor. For more information on the juvenile criminal justice system in New Jersey, please click the link.

FAQ about Juvenile Court in NJ:

  • Do you need an attorney for juvenile court?
    • Yes, the juvenile will be required to have counsel during most proceedings.
  • Can my child be sentenced to Jail in Juvenile Court?
    • Yes, depending on the charges, a juvenile can be sentenced to Jamesburg, which is the juvenile “jail” in New Jersey.
  • Do I get a Jury trial in Juvenile Court?
    • No. Just like Municipal Court matters, the Juvenile is only entitled to a Bench Trial.
  • Can my juvenile charges be upgraded to adult court?
    • Yes. Depending on the charges and the juvenile’s criminal history it is possible to have there charges waived up to adult court.

Looking for a criminal defense lawyer in Somerset County

If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense in Somerset and Hunterdon County, the Keith Oliver Criminal Law can help. We defend all types of allegations including but not limited too cocaine possession, heroin distribution, stalking, terroristic threats, assault by auto, driving under the influence, shoplifting, robbery and endangering the welfare of a child. We serve all of Somerset and Hunterdon, including municipalities like Somerville, Flemington, Clinton, Raritan, Readington, Bridgewater, Franklin, Hillsborough and Bound Brook. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation today, please contact our office at 908.533.1064.

Author: Keith G. Oliver

Founding partner Keith G. Oliver has a passion for helping people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. He believes that everyone has a right to be presumed innocent, and that one mistake shouldn’t define a person forever. This passion drives Mr. Oliver to tirelessly fight for his clients and pursue the best possible outcome in every case.