One of the issue that comes up in my practice is whether or not someone who was involved in a motor vehicle accident and receives a traffic ticket requires the use of an attorney to protect their rights in Municipal Court. Importantly, any individual who is involved in a traffic accident and receives a traffic summons needs to ensure that they obtain a civil reservation if any guilty plea is entered.
A civil reservation is a device which is utilized in Municipal Courts, primarily in cases involving car accidents, which prevents a plea of guilty from being used in a future personal injury case involving that motor vehicle accident. The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently addressed civil reservations and when civil reservations must be entered to be effective in the case of Maida v. Kuskin.
When a person pleads guilty to any non-indictable offense in Municipal Court, New Jersey Court Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) allows that person to seek a civil reservation to prevent any testimony related to the guilty plea from being used against them in any future trial in which their negligence is an issue. This scenerio generally arises in cases involving motor vehicle accidents where the driver responsible for the accident is given a traffic ticket for careless, driving reckless driving, unsafe driving, speeding or some other violation of New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Statutes (Title 39).
Basically, under the New Jersey Rules of Evidence, any statement, by any party to a litigation, which is made at any time may be introduced as evidence against that party at a civil trial. See New Jersey Rule of Evidence 803. Thus, based on that Evidence Rule, when a person pleads guilty to a traffic violation in Municipal Court, the testimony that they give to the court to support of their guilty plea (called the allocution) can be submitted to the jury in the personal injury case to prove the negligence (or wrongful conduct) of the driver in causing the accident. A properly entered civil reservation at the time the plea agreement accepted by the court prevents this from occurring.
The issue recently addressed by the Supreme Court on this relatively simple issue is whether a civil reservation that was entered after the Municipal Court accepted the guilty plea should be honored. Because Court Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) requires the civil reservation to be made “at the time” the plea is entered and because the “victim” of the car accident has the right to object to a civil reservation being entered if good cause is shown. Thus, the Supreme Court disallowed the civil reservation in that case.
Based on the above, it is important that anyone who is charged with a Municipal Court offense which may possibly be the subject of future civil litigation (car accidents, assaults, etc.), to insure that any guilty plea entered includes a civil reservation to protect them from the potential future liability in a civil case. Further, victims of motor vehicle accidents should also be aware of this issue so that they have the opportunity to object to the entry of a civl reservation under the correct circumstances.
Obviously, the best way to insure that your interests are properly protected is to contact a qualified attorney that has experience in both Municipal Court matter and personal injury litigation type matters. please feel free to contact us with any questions or issues as you may feel that your present situation relates to this blog.