New Jersey Appellate Court Considers Whether “House Arrest” May Be Credited Towards Mandatory Minimum DWI Sentence

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.

The Law Division denied the defendant’s appeal of the merits of the conviction. By then, the defendant had been subject to the “house arrest” order for 149 days. Counsel for the state and the defendant argued over whether the period of house arrest could be counted towards the DWI sentence, and the Law Division decided to give “the defendant the benefit of the doubt.” It sentenced him to 31 days to complete the 180-day mandatory minimum DWI sentence. The defendant immediately served 31 days in county jail. The state appealed this decision.

The Appellate Division agreed with the state’s argument that § 39:4-50(a)(3) does not allow any credits towards a sentence for a third or subsequent DWI, except for those specifically mentioned in the statute. It cited its own 2006 decision in State v. Luthe that the law makes “no allowance for noncustodial alternatives.” It held that the house arrest did not meet the statutory requirement of “custody,” since the defendant was not subject to supervision or monitoring and was free to visit his daughter, his doctors, and his lawyers. It reversed the Law Division’s decision and remanded the case with instructions to remove the 149-day credit.

A DWI charge under New Jersey law can have a major impact on your life, even if you are never convicted of a crime. A knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorneys can advise you of your rights and mount an effective defense for you from the beginning of your case. At Levow & Associates, we have dedicated 100% of our law practice to representing DWI defendants, and we are available 24/7 for you. Contact us today online or at (877) 975-3399 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Out-of-State DWI Convictions Count as Prior Convictions in New Jersey DWI Cases, Appellate Court Holds, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 9, 2015

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

Photo credit: cascalheira [Public domain, CC0 1.0], via Pixabay.