New Jersey law imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses. A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can result in a mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant has multiple prior convictions. Mandatory minimum sentences may also apply to criminal offenses related to DWI. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently ruled that a trial court violated state law by pronouncing a sentence that was less than the mandatory minimum. In addition to DWI, the defendant in State v. Locane was convicted of the criminal offenses of second-degree vehicular homicide and third-degree assault by auto. The two criminal offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences.
New Jersey’s DWI statute states that a third or subsequent DWI offense shall result in a 180-day jail sentence, but it allows a judge to lower that sentence by one day for each day a defendant spends in a drug or alcohol treatment program, up to a total of 90 days. Although judges have the discretion to reduce a defendant’s jail time by up to half, a third or subsequent DWI offense effectively has a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence.
If a person operates a vehicle recklessly and causes the death of another person, they could be found guilty of “death by auto,” also known as vehicular homicide. Evidence that a defendant was operating a vehicle while intoxicated, in violation of the state’s DWI law, “give[s] rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly.” Other factors that allow a judge or jury to infer recklessness include 24 consecutive hours without sleep and the use of a cell phone while driving. Vehicular homicide combined with DWI carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years, with no eligibility for parole during that time. The law allows judges some discretion but requires them to explain their reasons for deviating from the minimum.