New Jersey Appellate Division Reverses Criminal DWLS Convictions Based on Recent Precedential Decision

alcoholA conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey results in a mandatory period of driver’s license suspension, ranging from a minimum of three months for a first offense to 10 years for a third or subsequent offense. Driving while one’s license is suspended (DWLS) is a separate motor vehicle offense under New Jersey law, with possible penalties including fines, revocation of one’s vehicle registration, and jail time. In certain circumstances, a person can face a criminal charge for DWLS. Two defendants recently appealed their criminal DWLS convictions, arguing that the criminal statute did not apply in their circumstances. The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in the defendants’ favor in both cases, State v. Jivani and State v. Torella, based on its own ruling on the same issue in 2015 in State v. Perry.

New Jersey’s criminal DWLS statute applies when a person is charged with DWLS while they are subject to a license suspension due to a conviction for DWI or refusal to submit to breath testing, and they have either (1) a prior conviction for DWLS during the same period of license suspension, or (2) a prior conviction for DWI or refusal. The first option applies when the person only has one DWI or refusal conviction, and when the statutory license suspension period is between three months and one year. The second option involves a second or subsequent DWI or refusal conviction, with a suspension period lasting two to 10 years. The statute imposes a mandatory 180-day jail sentence.

Once a driver’s license suspension term expires, a person must affirmatively request the reinstatement of their license from the state. They may still be subject to a DWLS charge if they resume driving without reinstating their license. The central question presented in the cases mentioned above is whether the criminal DWLS statute applies after a person completes their statutory period of license suspension, but before they reinstate their license.

In Perry, the Appellate Division ruled that the criminal DWLS statute only applies if the underlying DWLS offense occurs during the statutory period of license suspension. A person who is subject to a two-year license suspension for a second DWI conviction, for example, would only be subject to the criminal DWLS statute if the alleged DWLS offense occurred during that two-year period. If it occurs after the two years is up, but before the person reinstates their license, the person may still be culpable under the regular DWLS statute but not the criminal one.

The defendant in Jivani had two DWI convictions from 2004 and 2008. In Torella, the defendant had three DWI convictions from 2001 and 2002. They completed their statutory license suspensions in 2010 and 2012, respectively, but neither defendant reinstated their license. Both defendants were indicted for criminal DWLS in 2013. In both cases, the defendants unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictments on the ground that the statutory license suspension periods had ended by the time of their arrests. Both entered conditional guilty pleas, preserving the right to appeal on that issue. In both cases, the Appellate Division reversed their convictions based on Perry.

If you are facing charges of alleged DWI in a New Jersey court, a DWI attorney with knowledge of this state’s court system can help you understand your rights and protect your interests. Evan Levow has dedicated his law practice to the defense of people charged with DWI in New Jersey. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Legislature Passes Bill Affecting Transit Engineers With DWI-Related License Suspensions, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 2, 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

Consequences of DWI Conviction in New Jersey Extend Beyond License Suspension, Could Include Loss of Employment Benefits, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 19, 2016

Photo credit: Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.