If you receive a citation for Careless Driving, you face the possible punishment of a fine, as well as two "motor vehicle points" and two "insurance points". The judge may also sentence the defendant to incarceration for a period of up to fifteen days. Moreover, a person convicted of a motor vehicle offense may accrue five "insurance points" if he or she caused damage to another vehicle or property and the accident forced an insurance company to pay more than $500 in claims.
If you receive a citation for Careless Driving, you will be ordered to report to a municipal court at a particular date and time. Municipal courts are often held at night on a particular day of the week and are usually cattle calls where dozens or more defendants line up to appear before a judge in a process that can take many, many hours. Judges will usually see those represented by attorney first; moreover, prosecutors will speak with defendants represented by attorney before meeting with defendants who are not represented by an attorney. Most cases are resolved through plea bargaining, which means meeting with the prosecutor, discussing the facts of the case, then appearing before the judge.
In the case of a person charged with Careless Driving, a prosecutor may sometimes allow the defendant to plead guilty to a lesser, similar charge that does not carry either "motor vehicle points" or "insurance points". Depending on the facts of the case, that is often the defendant's best choice and a lawyer can help the defendant make that arrangement. Many Careless Driving cases can be pleaded down to Unsafe Operation (39:4-97.2), which carries no motor vehicle points but does cost the defendant more in terms of money (a fine of $50 to 150 and a surcharge of $250).
You may wonder how a prosecutor can convict a defendant of Careless Driving even when the police officer who wrote the ticket did not witness the accident. After all, a police officer cannot testify as a witness to something he or she never saw. However, a prosecutor may call other witnesses, including other drivers involved in the accident, to testify regarding the defendant's driving at the time of the accident. A good defense attorney can call that testimony into question using the facts and showing that the other driver may be an interested party in the matter since he or she stands to gain or lose depending on the verdict. It should be remembered that under New Jersey case law, the mere fact of an accident is not proof of Careless Driving and a prosecutor must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you have been charged with Careless Driving in New Jersey or face any other criminal charges, call me -- Greg DePaul -- at (973) 376-8585 so we can discuss your options. My goal is serve your best interests under the law.