The New Jersey Court System is comprised of Municipal Courts, Tax Court, Superior Court, Appellate Division of Superior Court and Supreme Court.
New Jersey's Municipal Courts hear six to seven million cases per year. Most of these cases are for motor vehicle offenses, DUI cases, and disorderly person's offenses. The state categorizes simple assault, trespassing and shoplifting as disorderly persons offenses. These courts also hear cases regarding issues such as minor disputes and hunting, fishing and boating laws. New Jersey operates a total of 539 Municipal Courts.
New Jersey's Family Court hears cases regarding child custody, divorce, adoption, child abuse and support, domestic violence and juvenile delinquency. This court has a judge presiding over cases since they are civil and private matters. Some cases may even be closed to the public as determined by the judge.
The New Jersey Tax Court determines tax amounts for properties in the state, reviews decisions made by the county boards of taxation and those made by the State Division of Taxation in cases of sales tax, business tax and state income tax. The Tax Court employs 12 judges in the state.
New Jersey has 21 counties, and there is a Superior Court located in each of them. These 21 courts are presided over by a total of 360 trial judges. These courts hear criminal, civil and family law cases where a trial will take place.
The Appellate Division reviews appeals of decisions made by lower courts. A panel of two or three judges decides the cases, so there are no trials involved in the appellate process. Lawyers are allowed to argue the cases with the panel. These cases are decided based on whether the verdict in a case was supported by evidence, the attorneys were competent and the judge was fair and impartial. A total of 36 judges serve the Appellate Division.
As a court of last resort, the New Jersey Supreme Court will hear appeals of decisions made by the Appellate Division. This court is often required to interpret laws and the constitutionality of them in determining the final appeal decision of a case. There are six judges who serve the Supreme Court.
New evidence is not considered in these appeals, and no trial takes place. The judges must determine based on transcripts of the original trial whether the lower court was fair and unbiased, and whether the outcome was constitutional.
A case of note originating in New Jersey is that of New Jersey v. Adkins. The case was originally filed after a man (Adkins) was arrested and convicted for a DWI and his blood tested 0.157 BAC. A 2013 decision in Missouri v. McNeely by the U.S. Supreme Court stated that if a driver is suspected of driving drunk, "'the dissipation in a suspected drunk driver's blood is not an automatic exigent circumstance." And thus, without sufficient probable cause, police needed to obtain a warrant to conduct blood tests.
Adkins cited this decision when filing a pre-trial motion claiming the police should have obtained a warrant in his case and therefore blood results should be thrown out. The trial court agreed, and the state appealed the case to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which then sent it back to the trial court to determine if the police had probable cause to test Adkins' blood.