Conditional Guilty Plea Required in New Jersey DWI Cases to Preserve Certain Issues for Appeal, According to Court

Conditional flowchartA defendant charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey may choose to plead guilty or may face a trial before a municipal judge. If the judge finds them guilty, they may be able to appeal to the New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division, and from there to the Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court. A defendant can also appeal a municipal court’s denial of a pretrial motion, but this requires entering a conditional guilty plea. The New Jersey Rules of Court (NJRC) include separate provisions for appealing the denial of a motion to suppress, which asserts constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, but courts have held that this type of appeal also requires a conditional plea of guilty. In February 2016, the Appellate Division ruled in State v. Ricca that a DWI defendant must conditionally plead guilty in order to appeal the denial of a suppression motion.

A “conditional plea” is one in which a defendant reserves the right to appeal on specific issues. In criminal cases, Rule 3:9-3(f) of the NJRC states that a defendant must enter a conditional plea of guilty in order “to appeal from the adverse determination of any specified pretrial motion.” If the appeal is successful, the defendant can withdraw their plea. Rule 3:5-7(d) states that a defendant can appeal the denial of a motion to suppress even if they have pleaded guilty in the case. This seems to differ from the more general rule, but the Appellate Division held in 1981’s State v. Morales that this sort of appeal also requires a conditional plea of guilty. The New Jersey Supreme Court reiterated this holding in 2003’s State v. Greeley.

A separate set of rules in the NJRC governs proceedings in municipal court, which are not considered “criminal” cases under state law. The rules regarding appeals of pretrial motions, however, are basically identical to those for criminal cases. Rule 7:6-2(c) establishes a conditional guilty plea as a prerequisite for an appeal of a pretrial motion. Rule 7:5-2(c)(2) states that a defendant can appeal a motion to suppress even after pleading guilty. The Greeley decision included this rule with Rule 3:5-7(d) in finding that a defendant must enter a conditional plea.

The defendant in Ricca pleaded guilty to DWI after the municipal court denied a “motion to contest his detention by police,” which the appellate court characterized as a constitutional motion similar to a motion to suppress. On appeal to the Law Division, the judge questioned whether the defendant could raise this issue, since he had not entered a conditional plea in the municipal court. The defendant argued that Rule 7:5-2, which covers DWI cases at the municipal court level, does not require a conditional plea to appeal on a constitutional claim. The Law Division judge ultimately disagreed, concluding that a conditional plea is required in DWI cases as well as criminal ones. The Appellate Division affirmed this ruling.

Evan M. Levow, a New Jersey DWI appeals lawyer, has dedicated 100% of his law practice at Levow DWI Law to representing people facing DWI charges in the courts of this state. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced DWI defense advocate, contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717. We are available to help you 24/7.

More Blog Posts:

Defendant Challenges Legal Sufficiency of “Standard Statement” Read During New Jersey DWI Arrests, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 5, 2016

Defendant in New Jersey DWI Case Raises “Double Jeopardy” Claim During Appeal, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, February 9, 2016

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

Photo credit: Ambigraphe (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.