The Corrupt Local Court System
A recent experience at a municipal court in the NJ area exposed to me a corruption that has gone off the rail. There are several components in play. I will outline each and let the reader judge the truthfulness of my observations. I will not identify the specific court but I truly believe it is pervasive among many local court system.
- Apr. 2018
What is the purpose of a local municipal court? The majority of the cases are traffic related with a few domestic violence and assaults mixed in. The court exist to punish the violators mostly with fines. It is also a way to promote public safety. These are all good things to maintain a responsible public that respects local ordinances.
In many cases, they have been perverted to become a money raising machine for the benefit of the local police and courts and the State.
The alleged crime almost take a back seat to the whole process. In most cases, the violation charges especially traffic related are pleaded down to a non-point violation with a huge fine, a standard court fee plus a huge State surcharge.
The idea of equal justice under the law does not seem to apply here. I will highlight some of my observations.
Some Detailed Observations...
The “system” is the problem and here are just a few random observations.
The meeting place is at a local court house. People responding to a summons were told to report there at 4pm. A sign up list is on the table. No instructions as to what to do or expect. A list of pending cases are posted on a wall.
Beside average defendents, there are a slew of lawyers dressed in suits. A police officer is present and ordered people around. His harsh tone demonstrate he means business and no disrespect will be tolerated. I did not see him smile the whole time.
“No cell phone use allowed in the building” he announced.
There were about 100 people in the building. After signing in, we were told to go and sit in the court room. After about one and a half hour, the judge came in. He announced they had a computer failure and contributed to the delay. He apologized and begin hearing the cases.
It appears there is no first come first serve here. The cases with attorney representing the defendants were heard first. Apparently, many of them are regular friends of the court. They already made some agreements with the prosecutor ahead of time and it is just a formality to appear in front of the judge and settle the case.
Next, the prosecutor came in and announced the names of people he want to see next. They will be spoken to one on one outside the court room.
Some cases were dismissed while others are pleaded down. In any case, they are sent back into the court room and await to be called.
A pattern developed as I was listening to the vsrious cases before me.
The judge will identify the individual and the attorney if one was present. He repeat the charge and discussed the prosecutors offer to plea down and ask for a plea. If defendant agree, he doled out the fine and court fee and surcharges. Next case...
Since this was a mostly ethnic community, a translator is on hand to help the proceedings. I believe he is a paid employee of the court.
Another common feature is many were charged with multiple summons. It seems the practice is to give out two summons, have it bargained down to one guilty and one dismissed and pay a larger fine.
It is very efficient and almost like an assembly line. You can almost hear the cash register ringing...
By my rough calculation, there were about 100 cases in total.
Averge fine was $165 plus a court fee of $35 and many with addition State surcharge of $250.
That is $45K raised for one evening of 3.5 hours. 4-7:30 pm.
Beside the judge, there were 2 assistants, 3 police officers, 1 translator, 1 prosecutor and 2 clerks processing the fines. Only personal checks, money order or cash are allowed. No credit cards accepted.
In addition, approximately one third of the people had retained their own private lawyers. They must have paid a handsome fee for the priviledge of getting their cases heard first. Time is money you know.
No wonder after I received my summons, I received at least 7 solicitations from local attorneys mailed to my address. Somehow, it was public record that I received a citation and my name and address was added to their list.
The Law Doesn't Seem to Matter...
My experience as a whole is that the law seems secondary to the “process.” At the end of the day, what was recorded is not a reflection of the true nature of the alleged crimeS. Next time you see a police statistic about crime in your area, just be adviced, they are most likely pleaded down. A moving violation becomes an unsafe operation of vehicle with no points... You get the idea.
I understand the need for plea bargains. The courts are inundated with cases and does not have the resources to take every case to trial. However, there needs to be a balance and some common sense applied here.
The other guiding principles should be “the punishment fit the crime.“ That is not what I witnessed. It seems the penalty doled out by the judge have little to do with the actual crime or offense. Some have a heavy fine while others a lighter fine for a more serious offense. The one pattern that I did notice is that repeat offenders are charged with a much higher fine by law. A second offense of the same infraction will lead to a double or triple of the amount.
The attitude of the court officers is one of entitlement. They wield their power by ordering the little people around. No cell phone...no stretching in court room, hands out of your pockets... They treat the citizens like animals to be ordered about, instead of with respect and be the public servant they are hired to be. I witnessed this abuse on several occasions. In one instance, he confiscated the cell phone from one person waiting in the court room after a long delay caused by a computer failure. I was mostly offended by the lack of respect for the people there. Many are immigrants with poor knowledge of the English language.
The moral of the story, don’t break any traffic laws in local municipalities. You will be treated badly while coerced into paying a huge fine and wasting 3 hours of your life.
Some Related Info
- money machine and double standard in traffic court (insurance, how much) - New Jersey (NJ) - City-Da
Just moved here from out of state couple of months ago and are regretting it after tonight. It was my first time ever in traffic court in New Jersey
- “Unsafe” Drivers in N.J. Face $250 Surcharge
New Jersey motorists who have been able to escape points for traffic tickets by pleading guilty to the catch-all charge of "unsafe operation of a motor vehicle" are finding it's now an expensive bargain, thanks to a $250 surcharge imposed under the n
© 2018 Jack Lee