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N.J. Supreme Court to consider dismissal of old municipal court cases for minor offenses

Hundreds of thousands of old offenses may be dismissed under a new order issued by New Jersey's top justice

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner
Chief Justice Stuart RabnerRead moreNew Jersey state photo

Minor offenses in New Jersey municipal courts that are unresolved and more than 15 years old should be dismissed, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court said in an order issued Thursday.

Justice Stuart Rabner issued the dictate just days after a high-court committee recommended a series of reforms following a lengthy review of the state's municipal courts.

The review by the Administrative Office of the Courts found hundreds of thousands of cases involving minor municipal offenses that have not been prosecuted. Among them are 787,764 open warrants from 1986 to 2003 for failure to appear in court for cases that include parking violations, minor motor-vehicle offenses, and violations of local ordinances. These included 355,619 parking tickets and 348,631 moving violations.

Rabner's order calls for a three-judge panel to conduct a series of hearings throughout the state to determine whether some cases should not be dismissed. The committee's report called for the dismissal of old bench warrants involving minor offenses. The order includes a list of offenses that should be considered. More serious offenses, such as drunken driving, major traffic violations, or indictable offenses, would not be considered for dismissal under the order. Additionally, there will be an opportunity for interested parties to object to the dismissal of any case.

The three-judge panel is to issue a report to the Supreme Court at the conclusion of the hearings to make recommendations for the dismissals and suggest a time frame to raise challenges.

The order is consistent with a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report that concluded it was unfair to issue arrest warrants, especially to those who are poor, for missed court appearances or failure to pay fines.

Rabner's order said the old warrants "raise questions of fairness, the appropriate use of limited public resources by law enforcement and the courts, the ability of the state to prosecute cases successfully in light of how long matters have been pending and the availability of witnesses, and administrative efficiency."