Out-of-State DWI Convictions Count as Prior Convictions in New Jersey DWI Cases, Appellate Court Holds

By joiseyshowaa from Freehold, NJ, USA (Fall Colors - country road  Uploaded by Gary Dee) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA defendant appealed his conviction of driving while license suspended (DWLS) to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, claiming that the trial court should not have counted DWI convictions from New York as prior convictions under New Jersey law. State criminal law treats DWLS as a criminal offense, not a traffic offense, when the suspension is due to prior DWI convictions. The appellate court affirmed the trial court in State v. Galdieri, finding that state law includes out-of-state convictions, even if a prior case included mistakes of law.

DWLS is normally a traffic offense under New Jersey law. It is a crime of the fourth degree, however, if the reason for the suspension is a second or subsequent conviction for DWI or refusal to submit to breath testing. According to the court, the defendant in Galdieri had two DWI convictions from the state of New York, although it does not say when these occurred. The defendant pleaded guilty to DWI in a New Jersey court in October 2012. The court suspended his license for three months, which is the penalty for a first DWI offense. This apparently happened because the judge was not aware of the New York cases. Twelve days later, the defendant was pulled over and charged with DWLS, which resulted in the present case.

The defendant pleaded guilty to criminal DWLS in June 2013, based on the prior DWI convictions. On appeal, the defendant apparently conceded that he had prior DWI convictions from the state of New York, but he claimed that they should not count towards enhancing the offense to the criminal level. He argued that the October 2012 DWI conviction in New Jersey should count as a first offense, since it was the only New Jersey conviction and the judge imposed the penalty for a first offense.

The appellate court rejected the defendant’s arguments and affirmed the trial court. State law expressly states that out-of-state DWI convictions may count as prior convictions in DWI and DWLS cases. With regard to the defendant’s argument that he was sentenced as a first offender in his New Jersey DWI case, the court noted prior New Jersey cases holding that courts are not bound by errors made by a previous court. In 2011, the Appellate Division held in State v. Zeikel that it is not obligated to give “special deference” to the trial court’s legal conclusions, and that a defendant does not have a “vested right” to a prior sentence that later courts must follow. The fact that the judge in the defendant’s New Jersey DWI case apparently made a mistake in sentencing did not bind the court that presided over the DWLS case.

A New Jersey DWI arrest can seriously affect your life, even if you are never charged with or convicted of an offense. A knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney can advocate for your rights and defend you in court. At Levow & Associates, we have dedicated 100% of our law practice to DWI defense. Contact us online or at (877) 975-3399 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Governor Blocks Bill that Would Lessen Some DWI Penalties, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 24, 2015

Defendant Not Obligated to Disclose Prior DWI Conviction, According to New Jersey Appellate Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 18, 2015

New Jersey Supreme Court Rules that “Step-Down” Provision in State’s DWI Law Is Not Limited to One Use, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 10, 2015

Photo credit: By joiseyshowaa from Freehold, NJ, USA (Fall Colors – country road. Uploaded by Gary Dee) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.