Missed court dates, lost parking tickets and old motor vehicle violations can come back to haunt drivers years later. Some people assume that old motor vehicle violations will not follow them and their driving records from one state to another.
Year-old summonses and warrants can be like a fine wine: the longer they remain, the greater they mature. Failure to address them can result in warrants for arrest, and drivers’ license suspensions will remain of record years later. A suspended New Jersey license will prevent a former resident from obtaining or renewing a license in another state. Missed court dates can lead to long standing arrest warrants which remain active for years, and may be picked up years or even decades later during a records search at an unrelated traffic stop or accident investigation.
The result can be have severe penalties and unfortunate surprises that far exceed the seriousness or penalties of the original years-old ticket.
On the other hand, long-standing summonses also pose problems for municipal courts if tickets remain open but become impossible to try as reports, officers’ memories and records as interactions disappear and officers retire. More than 787,000 stale violation summonses are older than 2003, yet remain officially of record.
This changed on January 17, 2019. After a lengthy task force study of old outstanding municipal court summonses and traffic violations, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an Order dismissing outstanding summonses and warrants in minor municipal court cases that are more than 15 years old. The Order provides that open warrants for failure to appear in cases prior to 2003 have been recalled and any associated court-ordered driver’s license suspensions or revocations would be rescinded.
The dismissed cases are those in which arrest warrants had been issued to defendants for failure to appear prior to January 1, 2003 where those warrants are still active. The dismissed cases included parking offenses, motor vehicle offenses, municipal ordinances and other minor municipal matters.
The Order, however, dismisses only truly minor cases, such as parking violations; motor vehicle offenses (i.e., going through a stop sign, improper passing, general motor vehicle equipment violations, certain low-grade speeding offenses, running a red light); local ordinance (disorderly persons) violations; fish and game violations; and low-level penalty enforcement actions.
Certain more serious municipal court cases are exempted from dismissal and remain active. Some disorderly persons offenses (where violence occurs, such as public brawling), summonses for driving while intoxicated, lack of auto insurance, reckless driving, and refusals to submit to a chemical test are not automatically dismissed, regardless of their age.
Persons concerned about the continued existence of aging cases less than fifteen years old or cases not falling within the dismissal categories should still consider seeking the assistance of counsel to proactively appear, address and resolve the old charges to prevent more serious problems later.