VY [Public domain, CC0 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via PixabayA New Jersey DWI defendant will get a new trial 11 years after he entered a guilty plea. The Superior Court, Appellate Division ruled in State v. Aratow that his 2004 plea did not meet several constitutional requirements set out in the New Jersey Rules of Court. The defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) in 2011 in connection with a new DWI charge, seeking review of the 2004 plea. The court held that the record did not support the lower courts’ findings that the defendant pleaded guilty in 2004 with a full understanding of the consequences, nor did the municipal court establish all of the facts required to sustain a DWI conviction. It reversed the lower court rulings and remanded the case to the municipal court for trial on the original charges.

The defendant received his first conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in November 1988. He was charged with DWI a second time in February 2004, and he appeared pro se in municipal court that April. The municipal judge questioned the defendant about his right to counsel and his decision not to have an attorney present. The judge stated that, since the defendant’s first DWI conviction was over a decade old, the court would treat this as a first offense. The defendant stated, under oath, that he drank about three vodka and tonics on the night of his arrest and that he wished to plead guilty. The court entered the plea at that time.

In June 2009, the defendant was charged with DWI again. He pleaded guilty in June 2011, but the court treated it as a third offense and sentenced him to a 10-year license suspension and 180 days in jail. It stayed the jail sentence so that he could file a PCR petition. In the petition, the defendant claimed, in part, that his 2004 guilty plea did not meet certain constitutional standards.

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By Mr. Matté (if there is an issue with this image, contact me using this image's Commons talk page or my English Wikipedia talk page; I'll know about it a lot faster) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe defendant in a DWI case appealed the denial of his motion for post-conviction relief (PCR), which the municipal court and the Superior Court, Law Division said was not filed in a timely manner. He claimed that he was not aware of his right to bring a motion for PCR, and he noted that he was not represented by counsel in his earlier DWI case. These factors, he argued, constituted “excusable neglect,” which would allow a court to waive the usual five-year deadline to bring a PCR motion. The Appellate Division disagreed, finding in State v. Reese that a lack of knowledge of the law does not excuse a late filing. The court’s decision underscores the importance of retaining knowledgeable counsel at the earliest stage of a DWI case.

The original DWI case began in August 1983, when the Hammonton Municipal Court issued a summons for driving while intoxicated and driving while license suspended. The defendant failed to appear at the September court date but called the court prior to the rescheduled court date that October. The court postponed the case several times in 1983 and 1984. It issued a bench warrant for failure to appear in March 1984, but when police tried to serve the warrant, they noted that the defendant no longer lived at his address on file.

The case remained inactive until May 1991, when the defendant tried to restore his driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles and was informed that a case was pending against him in Hammonton. He appeared in court shortly afterwards without an attorney. He claims that he did not waive his right to counsel, and the court did not advise him of his right to a court-appointed lawyer. An entry on the back of the summons says that he was “advised as to rights” and then simply has the notation “waived.” The defendant pleaded guilty to the DWI charge.

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By Government of Ontario ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsIn a New Jersey DWI case, a defendant may claim that a police officer made a mistake that affects the outcome of the case. A “mistake of law” might involve conduct that an officer incorrectly believes is against the law, while a “mistake of fact” could be an error or misconception that leads an officer to wrongly think a driver has committed an offense. Mistakes of law are more likely to help a defendant fighting a DWI charge, although the legal landscape has recently changed considerably. A New Jersey Appellate Division decision, State v. Fath, involved an alleged mistake of law by the arresting officer that required dismissal of the DWI charge. The court found that it was actually a mistake of fact and that the officer’s decision to stop the defendant’s vehicle was justified on other grounds.

The arresting officer testified that he was stopped at a red light, facing the defendant’s vehicle, when he saw her make a right turn on red in violation of a posted “no right turn on red” sign. He followed her and then claimed that he witnessed her “carelessly cross oncoming traffic in order to make a left-hand turn.” He pulled her over, and she was ultimately charged with DWI, careless driving, and “failing to observe a traffic signal prohibiting a turn on red.”

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained during the traffic stop. New Jersey traffic law requires drivers to obey all traffic control devices “placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.” Right turns on red are allowed “unless an official sign…prohibits the same.” The defendant produced a certification from the New Jersey Department of Transportation stating that it had failed to find any official approval of a “no right turn” sign at that intersection. In other words, she argued that the sign was not “an official sign” under New Jersey law, and it was therefore a mistake of law for the officer to stop her for making a right turn.

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David Chu [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrIn order to prove that a defendant has committed the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, prosecutors do not necessarily have to provide direct proof that the defendant was driving, such as through testimony from an arresting officer that they saw the defendant driving erratically, or that they pulled the defendant over on suspicion of another traffic offense and noticed signs of intoxication. Under New Jersey law, the key element of a DWI offense is that a defendant has control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Several recent decisions by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division deal with situations where an arresting officer did not witness actual driving, but where the court still found the defendant guilty of DWI.

New Jersey’s DWI statute defines the offense, in part, as “operat[ing] a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or…with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more…” While the plain meaning of these words suggests that the state must prove actual operation of a vehicle, New Jersey courts have held that it is enough to prove that a defendant was imminently capable of operating a vehicle, or that evidence suggests that they had been operating the vehicle before the arresting officer’s arrival on the scene.

Evidence supporting a DWI conviction could include testimony indicating that the vehicle could not have gotten into the position where the officer found it without the defendant driving it there, or something as simple as the officer finding the defendant in the driver’s seat of a stopped vehicle with the engine running. Municipal courts decide many cases based on the defendant’s own admission that they had been driving earlier.

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By Benjah-bmm27 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA defendant in a DWI case, State v. Arbuckle, appealed his conviction after a trial de novo in the Superior Court, Law Division. He argued in part that the court erred in admitting Alcotest results into evidence. The Appellate Division noted that the lower court had applied factors established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Chun when it reviewed the arresting officer’s conduct in administering the Alcotest. Chun was a landmark 2008 decision regarding the use of Alcotest machines by New Jersey law enforcement. We represented one of the defendants in that case and participated in the argument.

In the present case, the defendant was arrested shortly after 2:00 a.m. on January 26, 2013. The arresting officer reportedly responded to “an anonymous call that a snow plow was recklessly kicking up dirt and rocks” in the parking lot of a club in Manville, New Jersey. The officer observed the defendant in a vehicle “with its plow down despite the lack of snow on the roads.” He claimed to have smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath and stated that the defendant admitted to drinking. The officer testified that he terminated the field sobriety tests because the defendant could not keep his balance. He placed the defendant under arrest and took him to the station for breath testing.

Under Chun, an officer administering an Alcotest must wait 20 minutes before collecting a breath sample because of the risk of a false reading caused by residual alcohol in a person’s mouth. They must observe the person for the entire 20-minute period to make sure that no additional alcohol gets into the person’s mouth. The 20-minute period must start over if the person vomits or otherwise regurgitates, if they swallow anything, or if the operator notices any foreign object in the person’s mouth, such as gum or chewing tobacco. According to a 2012 Appellate Division ruling, State v. Carrero, the operator does not have to maintain eye contact with the person for the entire 20 minutes. They are only required to maintain as much visual contact as is needed to determine if they have “ingested or regurgitated something that would confound the Alcotest results.”

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By FBI (http://www.fbi.gov/news/photos) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsA recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rodriguez v. United States, establishes limits on police authority during traffic stops. The court ruled that an officer’s authority over the driver ends once the officer accomplishes the “mission” of the traffic stop, which in this specific case involved writing a warning ticket for a minor traffic violation. Anything that occurs after the “mission” is complete violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Since many DWI cases begin with a traffic stop for a minor infraction, this ruling could have a significant impact. At the same time, it still allows police to conduct further investigations, such as field sobriety testing, if they can show probable cause to suspect DWI.

A police officer pulled the defendant over for driving on the shoulder of a highway. He questioned the defendant and his passenger, ran a criminal check on the defendant’s license, and issued a warning ticket. While he acknowledged that he had completed the purpose of the stop, he did not let the defendant go. Instead, he ordered the defendant and the passenger out of the vehicle and made two passes with a drug-sniffing dog. On the second pass, the dog alerted to something in the vehicle, which turned out to be methamphetamine.

The drug-sniff search prolonged the traffic stop for an additional seven or eight minutes after the officer wrote the ticket. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence from the search of his vehicle, arguing that the officer lacked probable cause. The trial court denied the motion, finding that, while the officer lacked probable cause to search for drugs, the seven- or eight-minute extension of the stop was a minimal intrusion on the defendant’s rights and was therefore permissible. The court of appeals affirmed this ruling.

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By Ctruongngoc (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA conviction of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or refusal to submit to breath testing in New Jersey almost always results in a suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license. New Jersey traffic law also prohibits driving without a license or driving while license suspended (DWLS). As “traffic offenses,” most DWI and DWLS cases are not “criminal” cases. For individuals with one or more prior DWI or refusal convictions, however, prosecutors could bring a criminal DWLS charge under certain circumstances. A conviction of criminal DWLS results in a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days, and New Jersey courts have recently considered whether courts may allow alternatives to jail time, or if they can stay a jail sentence pending appeal. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently issued two decisions that build on earlier decisions holding that jail time is mandatory for this offense.

A first-time DWLS conviction has a maximum $500 fine and, if the license suspension was due to a DWI or refusal conviction, a revocation of the driver’s vehicle registration. A third or subsequent offense could lead to a 10-day jail sentence. DWLS becomes a criminal offense, instead of a traffic offense, in two situations:

1. The defendant has a prior DWLS conviction, which occurred during a license suspension resulting from a first DWI or refusal conviction; or
2. The defendant’s license is suspended for a second or subsequent DWI or refusal conviction.

New Jersey law makes DWLS under these circumstances a crime of the fourth degree, which is normally punishable by a sentence of imprisonment that may not exceed 18 months. The criminal DWLS statute, however, specifically states that this offense carries a “fixed minimum sentence” of 180 days without parole. The Appellate Division’s 2014 ruling in State v. French held that the statute requires 180 days of jail time, as opposed to an inpatient drug treatment facility.

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cascalheira [Public domain, CC0 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via PixabayA charge of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey requires a thorough and vigorous defense from the moment charges are filed. A recent decision from the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, State v. Haas, demonstrates that a court may not be able to reduce certain penalties prescribed by state law, regardless of the circumstances. The municipal court ordered that the defendant was subject to “house arrest” while his appeal of the merits of his conviction was pending in the Superior Court, Law Division. The Law Division, while denying his appeal, credited his 149 days of house arrest as “time served” towards the 180-day minimum sentence for a third or subsequent DWI offense. The state appealed this decision, and the Appellate Division ruled that a credit against the mandatory minimum sentence is not authorized under New Jersey law.

The municipal court convicted the defendant of his third DWI offense. For a third or subsequent DWI conviction, § 39:4-50(a)(3) of the New Jersey Revised Statutes imposes a sentence of “not less than 180 days in a county jail or workhouse,” with the possibility of reducing the total sentence by up to 90 days for participation in certain drug or alcohol treatment programs.

The defendant asked the municipal court to stay the sentence while he appealed the conviction to the Law Division. New Jersey Court Rule 7:13-2 allows a municipal court to stay all or part of a sentence “on such terms as the court deems appropriate.” The court ordered the defendant confined to his home during the appeal. He could only leave to see his counsel, his doctors, and, at the defendant’s request, for one three-hour visit per week with his adult daughter, for whom he provided care after she suffered a brain injury.

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By en:User:Sponge [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsDiversion programs, commonly known as “drug courts,” are becoming increasingly common around the country. Courts may refer a case to a local drug court in order to provide more focus on rehabilitation and recovery, rather than guilt and punishment. Defendants charged with nonviolent drug- or alcohol-related offenses may be eligible. In New Jersey, drug court procedures are mandatory for certain cases, and they may be available in some DWI cases. A recent decision by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, State v. Borges, examined some of the factors that may prevent admission of a defendant in a DWI-related case into a drug court program.

New Jersey’s drug courts are established within the existing Superior Court system. They typically involve a team of specialists in substance abuse and treatment, who work with prosecutors, court staff, probation officers, and others. Defendants who are admitted to drug court must complete various court-ordered services, submit to regular drug testing, and generally stay out of trouble. Failure to complete the program could result in jail or prison time. The use of drug court procedures is growing, with the number of voluntary admissions increasing by 25 percent between 2012 and 2013. A bill signed by the governor in 2012 makes drug court procedures mandatory in certain cases. Mandatory drug court sentencing began in 2013 in five counties, followed by four more counties in 2014.

Drug court procedures may be available in some DWI and DWI-related cases as an alternative to a jail sentence. The defendant in Borges was charged with driving while license suspended (DWLS), where the license suspension was due to a DWI conviction. The municipal court denied her request for admission to drug court. State law excludes defendants from drug court if they are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence. Since the defendant’s license suspension was due to a second or subsequent DWI conviction, state law requires a minimum jail sentence of 180 days. The municipal court therefore held that the defendant was not eligible for drug court. It did, however, offer to admit her to the program after she completed a 180-day jail sentence. The defendant refused this offer and filed an appeal.

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rochelle hartman [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrThe New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division reversed a defendant’s DWI conviction in January 2015 in State v. Barillari, based on discrepancies between the municipal court’s findings and the findings of the Superior Court, Law Division. The state had presented the arresting officer’s testimony regarding the defendant’s driving, demeanor, appearance, and performance on field sobriety tests (FSTs). Several fact witnesses and an expert witness, testifying for the defendant, challenged the officer’s testimony and his handling of the FSTs. The municipal court found the defendant guilty of DWI, relying on some, but not all, of the state’s evidence. The Law Division appeared to rely on evidence specifically disregarded by the municipal court. Because of this discrepancy, the appellate court remanded the case for a new trial.

The defendant was arrested on a snowy night in December 2009. The arresting officer testified that he witnessed the defendant “doing fishtails in a Jeep” in a restaurant parking lot. He claimed that he detected the odor of alcohol and that the defendant’s eyes were “bloodshot and watery.” The defendant reportedly stated that he had two beers earlier in the evening. The officer had the defendant perform several FSTs, including the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, in an area of the parking lot with “a light coating of snow.” The defendant did not perform well on the FSTs. When completing the standard questionnaire after his arrest, the defendant allegedly stated that he had four beers that night.

At trial, the defendant called four lay witnesses:  two friends who were with him from at least late afternoon, the manager of the restaurant where the arrest took place, and the restaurant bartender. They offered generally consistent testimony that the defendant and his two friends arrived at the restaurant for dinner. When the manager decided to close at 9:00 because of the snow, he offered to give the defendant a ride home. The defendant offered to warm up the manager’s Jeep and drove it around the parking lot to warm it up and to make room for a snow plow.

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