Drivers who are involved in auto accidents in New Jersey can often find themselves charged with one or more traffic violations related to the crash. Charges such as careless driving, unsafe lane change, reckless driving, and following too closely are all common tickets one might get following an accident.
While it is almost always a bad idea to just accept a traffic ticket and pay it—effectively pleading guilty to the violation—it is particularly risky in the case of an accident. That’s because any guilty plea to a traffic violation can be used against a New Jersey driver as evidence of guilt in a civil lawsuit regarding the accident. This is true even when drivers plead guilty to a reduced offense through a plea bargain (in court settlement)!
For example, say Driver A passes a stop sign in an intersection and hits Driver B (the driver of the other car) who is injured. Driver A is ticketed for NJSA 39:4-144, failure to obey a stop sign. If Driver A pleads guilty to the ticket in municipal court and is later sued by Driver B in civil court for negligently running a stop sign, Driver B can introduce Driver A’s guilty plea as evidence that Driver A was negligent in running the stop sign.
Fortunately, New Jersey has a special rule called a civil reservation that will prevent the plea to the traffic violation from being used against a person in a civil lawsuit.
What is Civil Reservations?
The Civil Reservation rule, codified under NJ Court Rule 3:9-2, allows a driver to enter a plea of guilty and “reserve” civil liability. In other words, it prevents the civil court from using a guilty plea to accident-related traffic tickets against the driver in a lawsuit.
When Should I Request Civil Reservations with a Traffic Ticket Plea?
Drivers should ask for a civil reservation any time they enter a guilty plea to a traffic violation involving a car accident. Drivers can do this even if they are accepting a plea bargain.
Why Does NJ Allow Individuals to Request Civil Reservations?
Civil reservations are intended to reduce unnecessary trials by providing a limited form of protection for those who plead guilty to things like accident-related traffic tickets and crimes involving victims claiming harm. Without the civil reservations, an individual who wants to plead guilty would be compelled to fight the charges to avoid civil liability.
- How Do I Request a Civil Reservation?
To request a civil reservation, a person need only ask the judge when they are entering their plea. Once requested, the judge will usually accept.
- What Happens if I Don’t Request a Civil Reservation?
Opting not to request a civil reservations when entering the plea means the defendant leaves himself/herself liable to a civil lawsuit in the future.
- Can I Plead Not Guilty and Still Request a Civil Reservation Upon Conviction?
No. A civil reservations can only be entered when pleading guilty. Rule 3:9-2 specifically states that “[f]or good cause shown the court may, in accepting a plea of guilty, order that such plea not be evidential in any civil proceeding.” If the defendant pleads not guilty and is later found guilty by the court, he/she has forfeited the right to a civil reservation.
- Can My Request for a Civil Reservation Be Denied?
Technically, yes. Rule 3:9-2 requires defendants to show “good cause” when requesting a civil reservation. In the case of traffic tickets involving auto accidents, it is rare for judges to deny the request.
- Are Civil Reservations Only for Traffic Tickets?
No. Those charged with crimes involving victims claiming harm can also request a civil reservation when entering a guilty plea. It should be noted that a civil reservations does not protect someone from court-ordered restitution; it simply makes the guilty plea inadmissible in civil cases related to the crime.
Do I Need an Attorney to Help Me Request Civil Reservations?
An attorney is not required; however, anyone who feels they may need to request Civil Reservations should consult with an attorney before entering a plea. If you or a loved one has been ticketed for a traffic violation in connection to an auto accident in New Jersey, contact the Rosenblum Law right away. Our team of skilled traffic ticket and criminal defense attorneys have helped many people in similar situations in both New York and New Jersey. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation about your case.