Elizabeth NJ Municipal Court Lawyers
Elizabeth NJ Municipal Court attorneys are intimately familiar with civil reservations, in Municipal Court. For those who are not as familiar, a civil reservation is a request by a defendant to bar the use of a guilty plea, in the criminal or traffic matter, from being used as evidence in a related civil matter. To better explain the concept let me outline a hypothetical.
Client John Smith is involved in a motor vehicle accident. The driver of the other vehicle is taken from the scene by ambulance with obvious injuries. Mr. Smith is charged with reckless driving, tailgating and speeding. When he appears in municipal court, his Elizabeth NJ Municipal Court attorney negotiates a plea which provides that if Mr. Smith pleads guilty to careless driving the State will dismiss the balance of the charges. Mr. Smith agrees to the plea deal. However, he is concerned that the other driver may sue him for personal injury or property damage, in civil court, and does not want the guilty plea to be used against him – a very valid concern on Mr. Smith’s part. To alleviate this issue, his attorney can request a civil reservation. This will prevent the other driver’s attorney from using Mr. Smith’s guilty plea in a civil suit seeking money damages for pain and suffering or property damage.
Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court weighed in on how to properly request a civil reservation. In Maida v. Kuskin, No. A-50-13, the defendant plead guilty to failing to report an accident. At the time the plea was entered, the defense attorney did not request a civil reservation. At some time thereafter, the defense attorney wrote to the municipal court regarding the issue, which prompted the municipal court to enter an order confirming the entry of the civil reservation. The parties were not required to appear in court and the State was not afforded an opportunity to object.
As a result of the motor vehicle accident, plaintiff sued defendant for personal injuries and attempted to use defendant’s guilty plea as evidence in the civil trial. The trial court struck the civil reservation and allowed the plaintiff to use the guilty plea as part of its case in chief. In doing so, the trial court ruled that Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) provides that a civil reservation must be requested in open court. Because the civil reservation here was requested in writing, after the hearing was concluded, it was not proper. The Appellate Division reversed.
The New Jersey Supreme Court weighed in and decided the matter on March 19, 2015. In doing so, it confirmed that Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) requires that a civil reservation be made in open court, at the time the plea is being entered. In other words, it was improper to enter the Order confirming the civil reservation based upon correspondence sent to the court after the plea. The ruling makes sense as it ensures that all parties are present at the time the civil reservation is requested. If a party objects to the civil reservation, the objection can be discussed in open court and the trial court can make a determination on the record.
If you are issued a traffic ticket after being involved in a motor vehicle accident, it is critical that you consult an experienced Elizabeth NJ Municipal Court attorney at Rispoli & Borneo, PC. We have the experience to not only aggressively represent you in the municipal court proceeding, but to make certain a civil reservation is entered, so that you are protected if a civil lawsuit is filed against you.