How Pretrial Intervention Relates to New Jersey DWI Cases

DiversionCourts in New Jersey encourage both prosecutors and defendants to explore alternatives to taking a case to trial. Most prosecutions in New Jersey do not go to trial, ending instead in a plea agreement, diversion, or dismissal. Defendants charged with criminal offenses may qualify for pretrial intervention (PTI), which allows them to “avoid ordinary prosecution by receiving early rehabilitative services or supervision.” Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is not a criminal offense under New Jersey law, meaning that PTI is not available for defendants charged with DWI in municipal court. The related offense of driving while license suspended (DWLS), however, can lead to criminal charges in certain situations. Information about PTI may therefore still be useful during a DWI case. A recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division, State v. Torres, reviews the criteria for PTI.

New Jersey law establishes PTI as a means of focusing on the “least burdensome form of prosecution possible” for qualifying defendants. Eligibility is generally limited to defendants with no prior convictions in New Jersey, nor in any other federal or state court. The statute does not define additional eligibility requirements, other than a presumption against eligibility for defendants charged with public corruption or domestic violence. Prosecutors may recommend a defendant for PTI based on various factors, including the severity of the alleged offense, the defendant’s age, and circumstances that suggest that ordinary prosecution would not be effective at deterring future illegal activity or serving justice.

The PTI statute can be found in Title 2C of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, also known as the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. The DWI statute, on the other hand, is found in Title 39, Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation. This title deals with motor vehicle offenses like speeding, reckless driving, and DWLS, in addition to DWI. Proceedings involving motor vehicle offenses are similar to criminal proceedings in most ways. Prosecutors are still required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, for example, but defendants charged with DWI are not entitled to a trial by jury. In certain situations, DWLS is covered by a criminal statute, such as when a person allegedly drives during a period of license suspension that resulted from a DWI conviction.

Prosecutors charged the defendant in Torres with criminal DWLS, or “fourth-degree operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension.” The prosecutor denied the defendant’s application for PTI, citing several prior license suspensions and the defendant’s failure to install an ignition interlock device as ordered by a court. The prosecutor further found that her “offense represented a continuing pattern of anti-social behavior,” and “the public need for prosecution” was greater than the value of her participation in PTI.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the prosecutor abused their discretion by applying a “blanket policy” of rejecting PTI applications from defendants charged with criminal DWLS. Both the Law Division and the Appellate Division affirmed the prosecutor’s decision, finding that the circumstances of the defendant’s alleged actions at the time of her arrest, combined with her history of license suspensions, weighed against her PTI application.

If you have been charged with alleged DWI in a New Jersey municipal court, you should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney. Evan Levow can defend you against the state’s allegations and help you understand your rights under the law. 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:

Prosecutor Appeals New Jersey Court’s Approval of DWLS Defendant’s Request for Pretrial Intervention, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 4, 2016

New Jersey Appellate Division Reviews Availability of Pretrial Intervention in Criminal Cases Related to DWI, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 13, 2016

New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Important Ruling on Pretrial Intervention, Which Is Still Not Available in DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 1, 2015

Photo credit: Daniel Lobo [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.