New Jersey Appeals Court Orders Resentencing in DWI, Vehicular Homicide Case

Montgomery mapNew Jersey law imposes mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses. A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can result in a mandatory minimum sentence if a defendant has multiple prior convictions. Mandatory minimum sentences may also apply to criminal offenses related to DWI. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently ruled that a trial court violated state law by pronouncing a sentence that was less than the mandatory minimum. In addition to DWI, the defendant in State v. Locane was convicted of the criminal offenses of second-degree vehicular homicide and third-degree assault by auto. The two criminal offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences.

New Jersey’s DWI statute states that a third or subsequent DWI offense shall result in a 180-day jail sentence, but it allows a judge to lower that sentence by one day for each day a defendant spends in a drug or alcohol treatment program, up to a total of 90 days. Although judges have the discretion to reduce a defendant’s jail time by up to half, a third or subsequent DWI offense effectively has a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence.

If a person operates a vehicle recklessly and causes the death of another person, they could be found guilty of “death by auto,” also known as vehicular homicide. Evidence that a defendant was operating a vehicle while intoxicated, in violation of the state’s DWI law, “give[s] rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly.” Other factors that allow a judge or jury to infer recklessness include 24 consecutive hours without sleep and the use of a cell phone while driving. Vehicular homicide combined with DWI carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years, with no eligibility for parole during that time. The law allows judges some discretion but requires them to explain their reasons for deviating from the minimum.

The defendant in Locane was involved in a serious car accident in 2010 that resulted in the death of a woman and serious injuries to the woman’s husband. At the hospital after the accident, the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was reportedly almost 0.27 percent. She was convicted of the two criminal offenses by a jury, and the trial judge convicted her of three motor vehicle offenses:  DWI, reckless driving, and leaving the scene of an accident.

The judge sentenced the defendant to three years’ imprisonment for each criminal charge in 2013 but ordered that the two sentences would run concurrently. The defendant reportedly served two and a half years before she was paroled in 2015.

The state appealed the sentence, arguing in part that the sentences should run consecutively. The trial judge had apparently given substantial weight to the defendant’s younger child, who has Crohn’s Disease, as a mitigating factor. This is within a trial judge’s discretion, but the judge must provide a detailed description of the reasons for using specific mitigating factors to downgrade a sentence. The appellate court held that the trial judge failed to do this, and therefore it ordered resentencing.

If you are facing charges of alleged DWI in a New Jersey court, you should seek the assistance of Evan Levow, a skilled and experienced DWI attorney, who can help you understand your rights and defend you against the state’s charges. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

DWI Arrest Could Have Significant Immigration Consequences, According to U.S. State Department, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, September 19, 2016

Uncounseled Guilty Plea Should Not Count as a Prior Offense in New Jersey DWI Case, According to Appellate Division, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 13, 2016

DWI Convictions from Outside New Jersey May Count Toward Priors Leading to Criminal Charge for Driving with a Suspended License, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, May 10, 2016

Photo credit: JimIrwin at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.