Exclusive Jurisdiction Vested in Superior Court for Certain Tickets

The governor has signed into law a statute that vests exclusive jurisdiction in the Superior Court for Title 39 violations that are companion to criminal charges involving death or serious bodily injury.

Utilizing this procedure will prevent potential double jeopardy issues that might arise if a defendant pleads guilty to a traffic ticket containing recklessness as an element while there remains an unresolved indictable criminal charge that also has recklessness as an element.

Essentially, this statute codifies the New Jersey Supreme Court directive issued 23 years ago following the publication of State v. Dively, 92 N.J. 573 (1983).

Beyond this, note that the original bill was introduced by Mercer County legislators. Mercer County (Ewing Township) was the venue where, in a locally notorious case, a defense attorney attempted to enter a plea on behalf of his client to reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident during a first appearance in municipal court without revealing to the judge and municipal prosecutor that the accident that resulted in the tickets being issued involved two homicides and charges of aggravated manslaughter. See generally In re Seelig, 180 N.J. 234 (2004). The new law was enacted in direct response to that case.

The new statute and accompanying statement are as follows:

BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

1. a. In any matter concerning Title 39 of the Revised Statutes where death or serious bodily injury has occurred, regardless of whether the death or serious bodily injury is an element of the offense or violation, the Superior Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over the offense or violation until such time that the Superior Court transfers the matter to the municipal court. For the purposes of this section, the term “serious bodily injury” shall have the meaning set forth in subsection b. of N.J.S.2C:11-1.

b. The Attorney General may develop guidelines establishing procedures to be followed for prosecutions involving violations of N.J.S.2C:11-4, N.J.S.2C:11-5 or section 1 of P.L.1997, c.111 (C.2C:11-5.1) or criminal offenses involving serious bodily injury and underlying motor vehicle offenses arising from the same incident consistent with the provisions of P.L. , c. (C. ) (now pending before the Legislature as this bill).

2. In order to promote uniform enforcement in matters when death or serious bodily injury arises out of a motor vehicle incident, any guidelines developed by the Attorney General pursuant to the provisions of this act may be disseminated to the county prosecutors.

3. This act shall take effect immediately.

STATEMENT

The bill provides that in any matter concerning a motor vehicle incident where death or serious bodily injury has occurred, regardless of whether death or serious bodily injury is an element of the offense or violation, the Superior Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction over the offense or violation until such time that the Superior Court transfers the matter to the municipal court. By clearly and unequivocally placing jurisdiction with regard to these matters with the Superior Court, the bill would provide for one court to resolve the case as opposed to two different courts, the municipal and Superior Court, working at odds with each other.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that, after a defendant pleads guilty in municipal court to traffic offenses, the double jeopardy provisions of the State and federal constitutions bar a subsequent prosecution against him in Superior Court for criminal charges arising out of the same incident. State v. Dively, 92 N.J. 573 (1983)

This bill was prompted by an incident in which a Trenton couple was killed but the defendant had entered a guilty plea in municipal court to traffic offenses prior to the resolution of the criminal charges for aggravated manslaughter and death by auto. Under Dively, the disposition in municipal court of the traffic offenses precluded the prosecutor from bringing the defendant to trial on the criminal charges. It is the intention of the sponsor that established guidelines may prevent this type of situation from occurring in the future.

The bill provides that the Attorney General may develop guidelines on this issue and may disseminate the guidelines to the county prosecutors.

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