Civil reservations are important anytime there is a traffic, criminal, or quasi criminal conviction where a person was harmed. It is up to the defendant or their attorney to request a civil reservation at the time of plea or sentencing. It is not automatically granted by the courts and it cannot be entered after conviction.
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What Are Civil Reservations?
Imagine the following scenario. You are driving home from work in traffic. As you attempt to make a lane change another vehicle in the far lane is coming into the same lane you are changing into. The two vehicles collide. Your vehicle comes to a safe stop while the other car careens off the highway and into a pole. Both vehicles are heavily damaged and the police come. The other driver appears uninjured and does not leave in an ambulance.
After taking statements from you and the other driver, the officer cannot tell who was at fault and issues both drivers tickets for careless driving and unsafe lane change. One month later you go to the court. You do not see the other driver. The municipal prosecutor offers to dismiss the unsafe lane change and to reduce the careless driving ticket to unsafe driving so you have no points. You take the deal and plead guilty, pay your fines, and leave.
The other driver hires an attorney and goes to the same court a month later. He uses the fact that you already pled guilty to unsafe driving to convince the prosecutor that you caused the accident and his ticket is dismissed. Twenty two months later you get served with a civil complaint for personal injury from the other driver who is claiming serious bodily injury. The plaintiff in that action will be able to use the fact that you pled guilty to unsafe driving in his lawsuit to prove liability. You only have $100,000 in personal injury protection benefits and the plaintiff is suing for millions.
The above scenario happens more often than you think. Fortunately, it can be avoided with a civil reservation. A civil reservation order prohibits a litigant from using a guilty plea in civil court. The plaintiff will not be able to mention that you went to court and pled guilty to unsafe driving. It will be like the guilty plea you entered never happened and the parties will be left to sort out the civil case on an even playing field.
In What Kinds of Cases Should I Request a Civil Reservation?
– Any traffic ticket where there was an accident. This could include reckless driving, careless driving, unsafe driving, speeding, failure to maintain lane, failure to observe a traffic control device, and many more.
– Any criminal or quasi criminal case where there is a victim claiming harm. Charges could include harassment, assault, stalking, theft, arson, and many more. However, most courts will order restitution if they know there is a victim that was harmed. Restitution unlike a civil law suit will only compensate a victim for out of pocket expenses. Civil lawsuit may include damages like pain and suffering or punitive damages which often far outweigh the victim’s actual out of pocket expenses.
How Do I Get a Civil Reservation in New Jersey?
It is easy to get a civil reservation in municipal court. At the time of the plea, you simply ask the judge for a civil reservation and the law says the court must grant it unless there is a very good reason not to. The judge will literally stamp the ticket in red “Civil Reservation.” The reason civil reservations are granted on request is that municipal courts are very busy. If civil litigants were allowed to use municipal court convictions as leverage in a civil case, less people would plead guilty, more people would demand trials and the already overloaded municipal courts would be further backlogged.
In Superior Court, civil reservations are less common. On indictable charges, the standard changes so that the burden is on the defendant to demonstrate by good cause why a civil reservation should be granted. The victim must be noticed and has an opportunity to object.
Going to any court can be an intimidating and uncomfortable experience. As the judge is reading out your fines at the speed of an auctioneer, it is easy to forget to request a civil reservation. Hiring a lawyer may lead to dismissal of charges or tickets, reduce fines and penalties and ensure that the court enters a civil reservation.
Before you go to court alone, consult with New Jersey attorneys like Roberts & Teeter, LLC who are experienced in obtaining civil reservations for their clients. Contact us for your free consultation.