You may only have one chance…

This just happened to a client and the moral of the story is to be wary of going to any court hearing without a lawyer because the outcome may be permanent and harmful to you long-term. Now of course every lawyer will tell you not to do anything legal on your own, not unlike a dentist who would tell you pulling out your tooth on your own is a bad idea. But in this DIY era, more people are going to court alone and hoping it will be fine. And, I must admit, many times it is fine. However, for out client that was not the case. In the spring of 2017 he was pulled over and given tickets for failing to show a current registration document and for having an open container in the back of his convertible Jeep. Even though the empty bottle was trash he forgot to dispose of from a beach picnic the weekend before, he was still given a mandatory appearance traffic ticket. He went to the court and the prosecutor was nice enough to allow the client to plead guilty to the open container with a small fine and in return the document charge was dismissed by the judge. That judge made an audience announcement at the start of court that everyone was entitled to hire a lawyer to help them resolve their case but our client was already in line to put his case through on his own and on to his regular life. The problems started a short time after the case was over when he went to change jobs and was turned down because he had the “open alcohol container” on his record. He starts to do research and realizes that although points come off your driver record, offenses never do and there is not even an expungements process for old offenses. Now he comes to us to petition the municipal judge to reopen the case. This motion is denied. The case gets appealed to the Law Division and is opposed by the County Prosecutor and a hearing is set. At the hearing the judge rules that the case will remain resolved as the client was not entitled to be told of his right to an attorney or appeal at the time of his plea because the max penalties for open alcohol were do not allow jail or more than $800 in fines. If he had consulted a lawyer before court would the result have been different? Maybe and maybe not but it is quite certain that he would have been advised on the law and could have made a more informed decision- especially since this one is going to continue to affect him and his livelihood.

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