Get a traffic ticket in the Garden State, and you are at a fork in the road. Going in one direction means pleading guilty, but the process will be easy. Going in the other direction involves some more work.

Two Options

When you get a traffic citation, you have two choices:

  1. Pay the ticket, and by doing so, you are pleading guilty. You might get points and your insurance rates may go up, but you'll avoid a court appearance.
  2. Go to court after you call the court and tell them that you intend to plead not guilty (even if you are). The clerk will give you a court date and time, as well as the location.

Once you get a ticket, you'll be inundated with letters from lawyers offering a free phone call to discuss your situation. To retain an attorney, or not, is your call. However, if this isn't your first ticket, you'd be better off hiring an experienced traffic lawyer to defend you.

When You Get to Court

Be prepared to wait … a long wait. (Something like three hours is not out of the question.) Get to the courtroom early and wait. Bring something to read. Check in at the violator's window and ask when you can speak to the prosecutor. Your name will be put on a list – and you'll wait.

If an attorney is with you, you may get to go first so that your lawyer can leave. The judge will call you and repeat the charges. This is the first appearance, or arraignment. The court will want to know how you plead and might describe the repercussions of each choice. If you plead "not guilty," you'll be assigned a trial date, and the judge will ask about legal representation. If you tell the court that you will not have an attorney, you have seven days to change your mind and get a lawyer.

Prosecutorial Meeting

The prosecutor may work a deal with you. The prosecution could downgrade the charge or make some other offer. Once your deal is sealed with the prosecution, it's back to the courtroom (and more waiting). The bailiff will hand your documents to the judge, and the judge will repeat the deal back to you. If the plea agreement is correct, you'll leave the courtroom to pay your fines.

If you choose to fight the charge, the police officer will be present. However, if they don't show up, this doesn't mean that you're off the hook. In other states, yes, but not in New Jersey. NJ cops covet traffic court – it means they get paid overtime. It doesn't matter to the cop whether you win or lose; the police still get a little something in that week's paycheck.

Can't pay?

If you can't afford the fees and penalties, you can request a payment plan. The judge may agree to a start date along with a monthly payment amount. If you fail to pay on time, or the right amount, the court will issue a bench warrant.

Fees

  • If you plead guilty by sending the ticket with your check, you'll pay $85, or close to that, for the ticket.
  • If you go to court, you must pay a court fee of around $35 and a penalty of around $250. That $85-ticket is gone.

The high fee will make you feel like New Jersey saw you coming, and it did. The idea is that the money could go toward your insurance company or the township. The bonus? You get no points on the permit, but it's a high financial hit. Either way, you have to pay.

Points

A schedule of the more common points assigned in New Jersey can be found on the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission site. Points are permanent, but after a certain time frame, they don't count. According to the NJMVC, if you remain suspension- and violation-free for 12 months, three points will be deducted.

Traffic School

Attend traffic school in New Jersey and the DMV will remove two points from your driving record. Some of the defensive driving programs can be completed online and can cost as little as $28.

Suspended License

If you neglect to pay parking tickets, your license can be suspended – but you don't get points for parking violations. A license suspension can get expensive quickly. If you're stopped more than once for a violation while driving with a suspended license, you may go to jail.

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Disclaimer: The fines and fees mentioned above are in effect as of July 2017, but may change. Be sure to double-check your citation, visit the New Jersey's DMV website, or call the clerk of the court for the latest fee & penalty schedule.