NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT RULES THAT A REQUEST FOR CIVIL RESERVATION MUST BE MADE IN OPEN COURT AT THE TIME THE DEFENDANT PLEADS GUILTY

April 2, 2015 by Craig A. Squitieri ·

In New Jersey municipal courts, a judge is allowed, at the request of a defendant at the time of sentencing, to order that a guilty plea will not be considered evidence in any related civil proceeding. In other words, if the defendant broke the law such as speeding or driving carelessly, the fact that the law was broken cannot be used against you in a separate civil matter, such as a lawsuit for personal injuries. This is known as a "civil reservation." However, 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 as the civil proceeding, a civil reservation order may not be entered by the municipal court judge. In the recent New Jersey Supreme Court case of Maida v. Kuskin, defendant Michael Kuskin pled guilty to failing to report an accident involving Bruce Maida. Evidently, Mr. Kuskin struck Mr. Maida with his automobile while Mr. Maida was crossing the street at a crosswalk. To make matters worse, Mr. Kuskin did not get out of his car and he left the scene. The transcript of the municipal court session contained no mention of a civil reservation. Thereafter, Mr. Kuskin's attorney wrote a letter to the judge "to confirm that a civil reservation was placed on the plea." The judge after the fact entered an order directing that defendant's guilty plea "shall not be used or be evidential in any civil proceeding." As a result of the automobile accident, Mr. Kuskin was sued by Mr. Maida for personal injuries. Mr. Kuskin denied that he was negligent and asserted that "there was no accident" since he had a civil reservation Order from the Municipal court judge, albeit after he put his guilty plea on the record. The Supreme Court held that New Jersey Rule of Court 7:6-2(a)(1) requires the request for a civil reservation to be made in open court and at the same time that the municipal court judge accepts the guilty plea.