New Jersey Supreme Court defines procedure for civil reservations
The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued its decision in Madia vs Kuskin clarifying when a civil reservation is valid and enforceable. We will discuss the implication of this case below, but first, it may be helpful to to discuss what New Jersey civil reservations. For those not familiar with the concept, a civil reservation permits a defendant in municipal court to enter a guilty plea and not have the admission of guilt be used as evidence in a subsequent civil trial. Most commonly, a civil reservation is requested when a defendant pleads guilty to a traffic violation where there was an automobile accident. In those cases, the defendant is willing to accept responsibility in the municipal court for the accident but does not want the plea to be used against him/her should they later be sued by the victim for pain-and-suffering. Civil reservations are permitted by court rule R. 7:6-2(a)(1) and only apply to the guilty plea. The rule specifically states, “The municipal court judge, at the request of a defendant, to order that a guilty plea shall not be evidential in any related civil proceeding. “ It should be noted that any testimony given Municipal Court prior to the entry of the guilty plea is not protected by the civil reservation. In Madia vs Kuskin, Mr. Kuskin pled guilty to failure to report an accident in municipal court. The original charges arose from alleged incident where Mr. Kuskin was operating an SUV and struck Mr. Madia in a crosswalk. Mr. Kuskin's guilty plea was made in open court but he and his attorney failed to request a civil reservation at that time. Mr. Kuskin's attorney left court and, later that day, wrote a letter to the municipal court judge “to confirm that a civil reservation was placed on the plea.” The municipal court judge entered an order directing that defendant's guilty plea “shall not be used or be evidential in any civil proceeding.” Mr. Madia filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Kuskin seeking compensation for pain and suffering. Mr. Madia filed a motion to strike the entry of the civil reservation by the municipal court. Ultimately, the trial court granted the request to strike the civil reservation. The trial court reasoned that civil reservation must be requested in open court at the time of entry of the guilty plea. After trial, Mr. Madia appealed the decision to the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division. In an unpublished decision, the Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court. Our Supreme Court decided that the trial court was correct in barring the civil reservation because the request was not made in open court. The court reasoned that the defendant must make the request for civil reservation in open court because an order providing that the plea not be considered evidential in any civil proceeding is subject to the objection of the prosecutor or the victim. In summarizing its decision, the Court said, “… a guilty plea to a traffic offense that occurs in open court must be accompanied by a factual statement given by the defendant. A person who pleads guilty to a traffic offense may request an order that prevents admission of the plea in any civil proceeding arising from the same occurrence that precipitated the motor vehicle charge. That request must occur in open court. “ The Court further defined the prosecutors and victim right to object to the entry of a civil reservation by holding, “The prosecutor or a person injured in the motor vehicle accident may object to such an order and demonstrate good cause to bar entry of such an order. If the prosecutor or the victim demonstrates good cause or the charge to which a defendant pleads guilty does not arise out of the same occurrence that is the subject of the civil proceeding, a civil reservation order may not be entered.” If you or somebody you know has questions regarding charges were tickets in a New Jersey municipal court or how a plea may affect a lawsuit over a motor vehicle accident, contact DeMichele & DeMichele. Help protecting your rights is only a phone call away: (856) 546-1350.