A 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.