In New Jersey, there are several different kinds of courts. They include the New Jersey Supreme Court; the Superior Court, which includes the Appellate Division; the Tax Court, and the Municipal Courts.
By far, most of the cases filed in New Jersey's courts are heard in the Municipal Courts. In fact, about six million of the seven million cases filed in New Jersey's courts each year are filed in the Municipal Courts.
The Municipal Courts hear a great variety of cases. Municipal Court is where cases involving motor-vehicles offenses, such as illegal parking, speeding and driving while intoxicated, are heard.
Municipal Courts also hear cases involving minor criminal offenses such as simple assault, trespassing and shoplifting. In New Jersey, these minor crimes are known as disorderly persons offenses. Cases involving hunting, fishing and boating laws and even minor disputes between neighbors are also heard in Municipal Courts.
Municipal Courts are operated by the city, township or borough in which the courts are located. There are 539 Municipal Courts in the state.
Cases involving criminal, civil and family law are heard in what is known as the Superior Court. The Superior Court is sometimes called the trial court because it is where trials are conducted. There is a Superior Court in each of New Jerseys 21 counties. There are approximately 360 Superior Court trial judges in New Jersey.
Tax Court judges review the decisions of county boards of taxation, which determine how much a property should be taxed. Tax Court judges also review the decisions of the State Division of Taxation on such matters as the state income tax, sales tax and business tax. There are 12 Tax Court judges in New Jersey.
When people do not agree with the outcome of their cases in the trial court or Tax Court, they may appeal their case to a higher court. These higher courts are called appellate courts.
Appellate courts review the decisions of lower courts to determine whether those decisions were correct under the law. In reviewing lower-court decisions, appellate courts, like the trial courts, interpret the New Jersey and United States constitutions. They also interpret statutes, or laws enacted by the the State Legislature.
Appellate review helps to ensure that our courts and laws are fair. It is one of the hallmarks of America's legal system.
There are two appellate courts in New Jersey: the Appellate Division of Superior Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The Appellate Division of Superior Court
In the Appellate Division, cases are reviewed and decided by panels of two or three judges.There are no juries or witnesses in Appellate Division cases, and no new evidence is considered. Instead, lawyers make their legal arguments to the judges.
In reviewing a case, Appellate Division judges ask hard but important questions: Did the evidence support the jury's verdict? Were the attorneys competent? Was the judge fair and impartial? Did the judge properly explain the law to the jurors? There are 36 Appellate Division judges in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Supreme Court
If either side in a case is unhappy with the outcome in the Appellate Division, it may appeal the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court in New Jersey. The Supreme Court reviews the decisions of New Jersey's other courts.The Supreme Court, like the Appellate Division, often must interpret laws that are unclear or that conflict with other laws. For example, when does one person's right to protest interfere with the privacy rights of the person who is the target of the protest? When may the police search someone's home or car? What did the Legislature intend when it enacted a particular law?
In the Supreme Court, cases are decided by a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. As in the Appellate Division, there are no juries or witnesses, and no new evidence is considered. Instead, the Supreme Court examines whether the proceedings and outcomes in the lower courts were fair, unbiased and conducted in accordance with the law, and whether the outcomes were correct under the law.