New Jersey Supreme Court Dismisses DWI Charge, Finding that Defendant’s Right to a Speedy Trial Was Violated

By Beinecke Library [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to a speedy trial. If this right is denied, the court may dismiss the charges. The New Jersey Supreme Court considered this issue in New Jersey v. Cahill, ruling in early April 2013 that a sixteen-month wait for a DWI trial in municipal court denied the defendant’s right to a speedy trial. Applying a four-part test developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 in Barker v. Wingo, the court affirmed the dismissal of the DWI charge.

The defendant was ticketed on October 27, 2007 for driving while intoxicated and other motor vehicle charges. Six months later, on April 10, 2008, a grand jury indicted him for fourth-degree assault by auto. The defendant pleaded guilty to the assault by auto charge in Camden County Superior Court on September 19, 2008. A judge sentenced him to one year of probation, plus fines and other penalties, on November 14, 2008.

That same day, the Camden County prosecutor sent written notice to the Pennsauken Municipal Court administrator that the Superior Court was remanding the October 2007 motor vehicle tickets to the municipal court, and that the defendant had waived double jeopardy. The municipal court notified the defendant in March 2010 that it had set the DWI and other motor vehicle charges for trial on April 12, 2010. This date was sixteen months after notice of remand was sent to the municipal court, and almost twenty-nine months after the date of the tickets.

Arguing that the delay of sixteen to twenty-nine months was “egregious,” the defendant moved to dismiss the motor vehicle charges. The prosecutor argued that such a delay is not uncommon in DWI cases that involve indictable offenses, and also claimed that he did not learn of the resolution of the assault case until March 5, 2010, less than two weeks before the defendant received notice of the municipal court trial date. The municipal court denied the motion to dismiss, and the defendant entered a conditional guilty plea.

The Law Division and the Appellate Division ruled to reverse the municipal court. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the reversal, applying the four-part Barker test:
1. Length of delay: The court held that a delay of more than a year was enough to move on to the remaining factors.
2. Reason for the delay: Once a defendant has claimed a violation of the right to a speedy trial, the government must state a reason for the delay. Here, the court held that the government failed to do so.
3. The defendant’s assertion of the right: A defendant is not obligated to demand a speedy trial, and here, enough time had passed that the defendant reasonably thought the prosecutor had dropped the matter.
4. Prejudice to the defendant: The defendant had modified his job search to focus on short-term jobs that did not require him to drive. The sudden reappearance of the DWI charge not only caused him anxiety, but hampered his continued job search.

If you have been arrested or charged with DWI, you need the help of a qualified and skilled DWI attorney, who can help you understand your rights, prepare the best possible defense for you, and minimize the impact of the case on your life and your future. At Levow & Associates, we have dedicated our law practice exclusively to DWI defense. Please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

NJ DWI First Offense Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, February 13, 2014

New Jersey DWI defense strategy: When other serious charges may affect your outcome, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 3, 2014

Hiring an “Affordable” DWI Lawyer, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 6, 2012

Photo credit: By Beinecke Library [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.