Dismissal of Appeal in New Jersey DWI Case Reversed, Found to Be Abuse of Discretion

gavelDefending against a charge like driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey requires knowledge of the DWI statute and all of its elements and requirements, as well as the court system’s procedures, rules, and schedules. The state is obligated to prove every element of the offense of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt. Both prosecutors and defendants are obligated to follow a court’s procedural requirements regarding matters like filing deadlines and court appearances. Courts may impose sanctions on a party that fails to follow these requirements, but the extent of these sanctions is limited. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently reviewed a lower court’s dismissal of a DWI appeal in State v. Figueroa. It found that the court exceeded its authority by dismissing the appeal based solely on the defendant’s absence from the courtroom for a single hearing.

New Jersey’s DWI statute requires the state to prove that a defendant was operating, had recently operated, or imminently intended to operate a motor vehicle while either “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs, or with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or greater. Prosecutors may use evidence like BAC test results or testimony from police officers who observed the defendant to meet their burden of proof, but the time frame in which they can do this is limited.

Once prosecutors have filed DWI charges, the court’s scheduling system largely takes over. Once a hearing, trial, or other matter has been placed on a court’s docket, neither party can change the setting without the agreement of the other party or the approval of the court. Courts have authority to sanction parties or attorneys who miss deadlines or court appearances.

Rule 1-2:4(a) of the New Jersey Rules of Court allows courts to make various orders if a party fails to appear at a docket call, pretrial or settlement conference, or other scheduled hearing. Sanctions authorized by this rule range from the payment of court costs by the delinquent party to the dismissal of that party’s claim or motion. As the Appellate Division noted in Figueroa, however, New Jersey courts are advised to use procedural sanctions sparingly.

The defendant in Figueroa was convicted in municipal court of DWI and other offenses, including a violation of the open container law. During the municipal court proceeding, he made multiple discovery requests to the police and alleged multiple violations of his constitutional rights. His appeal to the Law Division came to a quick end, however, when that court dismissed his entire case after he allegedly failed to appear for the first scheduled hearing.

The Appellate Division held that the Law Division exceeded its authority by dismissing the appeal altogether. The defendant’s apparently uncontroverted account of the day of the Law Division hearing was that he arrived early, before the courtroom was open, and was waiting in the hall when the judge called his case. The Appellate Division noted the lack of evidence “of anyone checking the hallway outside the courtroom to see if defendant was present before the court dismissed defendant’s appeal.” The court found “no basis in the record for the imposition of the drastic sanction of dismissal of defendant’s appeal.”

If you have been arrested and charged with alleged DWI in a New Jersey court, DWI lawyer Evan Levow can guide you through the court process, help you understand your rights, and work with you to prepare a strong defense. Contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

Defendant in New Jersey DWI Case Challenges Admissibility of Alcotest Results, Claiming Spoliation of Evidence, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 22, 2016

Conditional Guilty Plea Required in New Jersey DWI Cases to Preserve Certain Issues for Appeal, According to Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 15, 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

Photo credit: wp paarz [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.