TRENTON, N.J. — The highest court in New Jersey is taking steps to do away with hundreds of thousands of open warrants for minor offenses such as parking tickets as part of an overhaul of the state’s municipal court system.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner on Thursday assigned three Superior Court judges to hold hearings on the proposal to dismiss at least 787,764 open warrants for offenses more than 15 years old that were never prosecuted.
“Those old outstanding complaints and open warrants in minor matters 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,” Rabner wrote in his order.
NJ.com reported that the order covers open warrants issued before 2003 for failure to appear in low-level cases, including 355,619 parking ticket cases, 348,631 moving violations and some cases related to town ordinance violations.
The open warrant and the underlying unpaid ticket would be dismissed. The order indicates that more serious charges such as speeding and drunken driving would not be included.
Throwing out old low-level cases was among 49 recommendations following a Supreme Court committee’s review of the municipal court system. The committee cited a growing “public perception” that municipal courts “operate with a goal to fill the town’s coffers,” which the panel called contrary to the purpose of the courts.
Municipal prosecutors, however, have argued that dismissing old fines would reward people for simply waiting out the clock. Members of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association voted overwhelmingly at an April meeting to oppose the idea, arguing that dismissing old cases would send the wrong message and arguing for at least some small monetary fine.
“The overriding sentiment was that Justice Rabner’s order would undermine the fundamentals of justice,” Annette DePalma, the group’s president and a municipal prosecutor in Maplewood, Essex County, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.