– By Dean R. Wittman, Esquire

Chances are that you or someone you know well will, at some point, come into contact with the criminal justice system.  In New Jersey, this most typically occurs through the municipal courts, which are considered quasi-criminal in nature, by way of traffic citations.  Whether it’s a speeding ticket or a serious criminal charge, by the time criminal defense counsel gets involved, the police and/or prosecutor typically have a considerable head start.  That’s why it’s so important to know your rights.

New Jersey has 4 levels of crimes, with 1st Degree being the most serious and 4th degree being the least serious.  New Jersey also has disorderly persons defenses and petty disorderly offenses as well as municipal ordinances.  While the New Jersey Criminal Code does not use these terms, the difference between a crime and disorderly persons offense is much like the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor as used in the United States Criminal Code.  Crimes are handled in the Superior Court at the county level, whereas disorderly persons offenses, municipal ordinances and traffic offenses are handled in the municipal courts.

It is important to know your rights before having interaction with law enforcement.

The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures.  This means that law enforcement officers may not search you without probable cause.  Thus, you should not give law enforcement permission to search you or your motor vehicle.  If you are searched unlawfully, any evidence seized as a result of that search can’t be used against you in a court of law.

The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides us with the right to remain silent.  This means that with some limited exceptions, you do not have to answer questions posed by a law enforcement officer.  The 5th Amendment also prohibits double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime) and mandates due process of law.

The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides us with:

1) The Right to a Speedy Trial;

2) The Right to a Jury Trial (exceptions for municipal court);

3) The Right to Legal Counsel;

4) The opportunity to confront the witnesses against you.

By knowing these rights before you are confronted by law enforcement officials, you can avoid self-incrimination and other pitfalls which may await you in the criminal justice process.  Also, it is best to contact an experienced criminal defense counsel as early as possible.  It is preferable to speak to an attorney before any criminal charges are filed.  If not, you will want certainly want to speak to an attorney as soon as possible after charges are filed.

I hope this information was helpful.  For additional questions, contact me at (856) 428-6600 or send me an email at 

The materials and information provided within this blog are designed to be of general interest in order to enable you to learn more about the services offered by Dean R. Wittman, Esquire.  The information contained within this blog is not intended to be legal advice and is not intended as a source of advertising or solicitation.  The materials and information are not privileged information and your use of the materials and information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Mr. Wittman or any of the attorneys from Zeller & Wieliczko, LLP.  This blog is not an offer to perform legal services.  You should not rely on the materials or information as legal advice and should consult with a competent attorney in your state for legal advice related to your own situation.  Prior results described within this blog do not suggest or guarantee that similar outcomes will be obtained with respect to future matters. 

Dean Wittman
  Mr. Wittman practices in several areas of law, including personal injury, premises liability, auto negligence, civil rights and employment matters. He also handles divorces and other family law matters, to include child custody disputes, child support applications, domestic violence, pre-nuptial agreements, adoptions and alimony modification applications. To discuss your specific legal concern, you may get in touch with Mr. Wittman via email ( or website (URL