Grounds for Post-Conviction Relief in New Jersey DWI Cases

By Government of New Jersey (Government of New Jersey) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsPost-conviction relief (PCR) is a critically important procedure in many types of cases in New Jersey, including—and perhaps especially including—convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Courts can use prior DWI convictions as grounds for enhancing penalties for a current DWI conviction. This is where PCR often plays an essential role.

Grounds for Relief

Numerous possible grounds exist for PCR, including:

– The defendant’s guilty plea did not meet the requirements of the New Jersey Rules of Court. Rule 7:6-2(a) states that a municipal court, before accepting a guilty plea, must determine that the defendant is voluntarily making the plea, and that the defendant understands the charges and the consequences of pleading guilty. The defendant must also state a “factual basis” for their guilty plea.
– The defendant was unrepresented by counsel, and the court did not make a finding on the record, as required by Rule 7:6-2(a), that the defendant had “knowing[ly] and intelligent[ly]” waived the right to counsel.
– The defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel.
– The DWI trial, and/or the conviction and sentence, violated the defendant’s rights under the U.S. Constitution, the New Jersey Constitution, or New Jersey law.
– The sentence imposed by the court was illegal. This last ground for PCR merits additional examination.

Time Limits for Filing

Rule 7:10-2(b) states that a petition for PCR must be brought within five years of the date the defendant was convicted or sentenced. It allows two exceptions to this time limit. A court may waive the time limit if it makes a finding of “excusable neglect” by the defendant. If the purpose of the petition is to “correct an illegal sentence,” it is not subject to any time limit.

What Is an Illegal Sentence?

The New Jersey Supreme Court defined an “illegal sentence” in 2000’s State v. Murray in two ways. A sentence is illegal if the penalties exceed those permitted by law, or if the court did not follow the law when imposing it. The Appellate Division applied this definition to DWI cases, and to Rule 7:10-2(b), in 2010 in State v. Ciarlante. That same year, the court’s ruling in State v. Dymacz noted that a guilty plea in a DWI case could also constitute an illegal sentence, but only if the court improperly accepted the plea in a way that raises constitutional concerns.

New Jersey courts have established several restrictions on sentencing for DWI convictions, which could be important in a PCR petition. These include that the court cannot impose an enhanced sentence for a third or subsequent DWI conviction if, in one or more of the prior cases, the defendant pleaded guilty without an attorney and did not expressly waive the right to counsel (State v. Laurick, 1990). Also, courts cannot use prior convictions for refusal to submit to breath testing to enhance a penalty for a DWI conviction (State v. Ciancaglini, 2011).

If you have been charged with alleged DWI in New Jersey, you should seek the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable DWI defense lawyer, who can guide you through the legal process, help you understand your rights, and defend you against the state’s allegations. We have dedicated our entire law practice at Levow DWI Law to representing defendants charged with DWI in New Jersey. We are available 24/7 to assist you. Contact us today online or at (877) 975-3399 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Appellate Court Finds Guilty Plea Insufficient in DWI Case from 11 Years Ago, Orders New Trial, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 16, 2015

New Jersey Considers “Excusable Neglect” Argument by Defendant Who Sought Post-Conviction Relief More than Two Decades After DWI Case, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 1, 2015

New Jersey Appellate Court Considers Whether “House Arrest” May Be Credited Towards Mandatory Minimum DWI Sentence, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, May 20, 2015

Photo credit: By Government of New Jersey (Government of New Jersey) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.