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What happens if I don't pay NJ traffic court fines and penalties?

The consequences of not paying fines and costs to a New Jersey traffic court can be significant, and it is generally a good idea to keep to any payment plan you have agreed to.

The Good

As a general rule, all fines and penalties levied by New Jersey traffic courts are due and payable that day.  Judges understand that you may not have all of the money to pay, but if you are able to make some significant payment right away, they will work with you on the balance.  But what happens if you don't pay? What can the court do to you?  Plenty!

The Bad

The first thing that usually happens is a notice goes out to you ordering you to appear in court and explain why you haven't been paying.  Appearing at that hearing, preferably with a payment, and an explaination of how you are going to get things back on track is the best thing you can do.

If you still just cannot pay, the court has some options available to it at that time to help you.  Blowing off that hearing is a very bad idea, however, because the court can then issue a warrant for your arrest or even have the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission suspend your driver's license!

The Ugly

What can happen after that can be even worse if the situation is not taken care of properly.  This is because the term "penalty" in New Jersey Traffic Law is defined as "any fine, statutorily-mandated assessment, surcharge or other financial penalty imposed by a municipal court, except restitution or a surcharge assessed" for an Unsafe Operation ("no point ticket") offense, which is $250. Remember, penalties are just that, punishment. It is not a debt.

This means that the court can convert a penalty into jail time if it sees fit! What is worse, the definition of penalty goes beyond just fines; they include any financial obligation except restitution or a surcharge for a no-point ticket. So on go the court costs (usually about $33 per offense), Safe Neighborhood Assessments ($75), Violent Crime Compensation Board payments ($50), etc.

So What Should I Do?

If you plead guilty to a traffic offense, take it seriously! If you fall behind in payments, be proactive and contact the court to modify the plan. Do not wait for an incident of default to do something; the consequences could be most unpleasant.

If you live in the southern New Jersey area and find yourself in a situation where a failure to pay court fines and costs have caused your traffic court case to spiral out of control, call my office at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site for a free consultation.  I may be able to help you get things back on track and prevent some serious consequences!

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