Articles Posted in Post Conviction Relief

A New Jersey DWI defendant will get a new trial 11 years after he entered a guilty plea. The Superior Court, Appellate Division ruled in State v. Aratow that his 2004 plea did not meet several constitutional requirements set out in the New Jersey Rules of Court. The defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) in 2011 in connection with a new DWI charge, seeking review of the 2004 plea. The court held that the record did not support the lower courts’ findings that the defendant pleaded guilty in 2004 with a full understanding of the consequences, nor did the municipal court establish all of the facts required to sustain a DWI conviction. It reversed the lower court rulings and remanded the case to the municipal court for trial on the original charges.

The defendant received his first conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in November 1988. He was charged with DWI a second time in February 2004, and he appeared pro se in municipal court that April. The municipal judge questioned the defendant about his right to counsel and his decision not to have an attorney present. The judge stated that, since the defendant’s first DWI conviction was over a decade old, the court would treat this as a first offense. The defendant stated, under oath, that he drank about three vodka and tonics on the night of his arrest and that he wished to plead guilty. The court entered the plea at that time.

In June 2009, the defendant was charged with DWI again. He pleaded guilty in June 2011, but the court treated it as a third offense and sentenced him to a 10-year license suspension and 180 days in jail. It stayed the jail sentence so that he could file a PCR petition. In the petition, the defendant claimed, in part, that his 2004 guilty plea did not meet certain constitutional standards.

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The defendant in a DWI case appealed the denial of his motion for post-conviction relief (PCR), which the municipal court and the Superior Court, Law Division said was not filed in a timely manner. He claimed that he was not aware of his right to bring a motion for PCR, and he noted that he was not represented by counsel in his earlier DWI case. These factors, he argued, constituted “excusable neglect,” which would allow a court to waive the usual five-year deadline to bring a PCR motion. The Appellate Division disagreed, finding in State v. Reese that a lack of knowledge of the law does not excuse a late filing. The court’s decision underscores the importance of retaining knowledgeable counsel at the earliest stage of a DWI case.

The original DWI case began in August 1983, when the Hammonton Municipal Court issued a summons for driving while intoxicated and driving while license suspended. The defendant failed to appear at the September court date but called the court prior to the rescheduled court date that October. The court postponed the case several times in 1983 and 1984. It issued a bench warrant for failure to appear in March 1984, but when police tried to serve the warrant, they noted that the defendant no longer lived at his address on file.

The case remained inactive until May 1991, when the defendant tried to restore his driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles and was informed that a case was pending against him in Hammonton. He appeared in court shortly afterwards without an attorney. He claims that he did not waive his right to counsel, and the court did not advise him of his right to a court-appointed lawyer. An entry on the back of the summons says that he was “advised as to rights” and then simply has the notation “waived.” The defendant pleaded guilty to the DWI charge.

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A charge of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey requires a thorough and vigorous defense from the moment charges are filed. A recent decision from the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, State v. Haas, demonstrates that a court may not be able to reduce certain penalties prescribed by state law, regardless of the circumstances. The municipal court ordered that the defendant was subject to “house arrest” while his appeal of the merits of his conviction was pending in the Superior Court, Law Division. The Law Division, while denying his appeal, credited his 149 days of house arrest as “time served” towards the 180-day minimum sentence for a third or subsequent DWI offense. The state appealed this decision, and the Appellate Division ruled that a credit against the mandatory minimum sentence is not authorized under New Jersey law.

The municipal court convicted the defendant of his third DWI offense. For a third or subsequent DWI conviction, § 39:4-50(a)(3) of the New Jersey Revised Statutes imposes a sentence of “not less than 180 days in a county jail or workhouse,” with the possibility of reducing the total sentence by up to 90 days for participation in certain drug or alcohol treatment programs.

The defendant asked the municipal court to stay the sentence while he appealed the conviction to the Law Division. New Jersey Court Rule 7:13-2 allows a municipal court to stay all or part of a sentence “on such terms as the court deems appropriate.” The court ordered the defendant confined to his home during the appeal. He could only leave to see his counsel, his doctors, and, at the defendant’s request, for one three-hour visit per week with his adult daughter, for whom he provided care after she suffered a brain injury.

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The New Jersey Supreme Court, in affirming the reversal of a DWI conviction, cautioned municipal courts throughout the state to keep pretrial suppression hearings separate from actual trials, noting that the two types of proceedings have substantially different purposes. The decision in State v. Gibson, issued on September 16, 2014, involved a conviction by a municipal court based solely on evidence presented at a pre-trial hearing on the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence, instead of at trial. The Appellate Division reversed the conviction and entered a judgment of acquittal. The Supreme Court affirmed the reversal but not the acquittal. It remanded the case for a new trial in municipal court.

A Winslow Township patrolman pulled the defendant over in November 2007 after the defendant allegedly passed his vehicle at a “high rate of speed” and changed lanes without signaling. The defendant reportedly agreed to field sobriety tests, but resisted arrest. He was charged with DWI, reckless driving, and failure to signal. A grand jury indicted him on several counts, including third-degree aggravated assault on a police officer. He pleaded guilty to the first count of the indictment in December 2008, and the rest of the counts were dismissed. The court remanded the motor vehicle charges, including the DWI charge, to the municipal court.

The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained in the traffic stop. The municipal court held a hearing on the motion in May 2010, where the patrolman testified regarding the alleged circumstances of the traffic stop. At a continuation of the hearing that October, the defense introduced the video of the stop and claimed that it contradicted the patrolman’s testimony. The court denied the motion to suppress, ruling that the patrolman had reasonable suspicion for the stop and probable cause for the arrest. It immediately moved on to the trial on the merits. Continue reading

Discussing legal matters on the internet is really never a good idea, and this is especially true with regard to criminal cases. A Michigan woman, who was on probation for DWI, may be returning to jail because of a Facebook post in which she reportedly admitted to drinking alcohol. The probation department, alerted by local police, tried to investigate further, and subsequently asked the court to rule her in violation of the terms of her probation. This could result in her serving the actual jail term included in her conviction.

The woman was convicted of DWI and put on probation in 2012. She was reportedly participating in a specialized probation program for DWI offenders that required her to submit to random breath tests. The probation department brought in over two hundred “high risk probationers,” including her, for testing over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend. In a Facebook post later that day, she stated that she passed the breath test even though she had drank the previous day. She reportedly only had a few weeks left on her probation period at the time.

A police officer saw the Facebook post and notified the probation department. Since consuming alcohol could constitute a violation of her probation, the probation department ordered her to submit to additional testing. A probation officer called her to tell her to come in for a urine test, which would reveal whether she had consumed any alcohol during the previous eighty hours. The woman allegedly hung up on the probation officer. The department considered this a violation of her probation, and notified the court. Continue reading

New Jersey allows people to expunge their criminal files in many types of cases, meaning that information related to a criminal case is removed from state and local agencies’ records and will not show up in most criminal background checks. Unfortunately, state law specifically excludes motor vehicle offenses, including driving while intoxicated, from eligibility for expungement. Even arrests for DWI are ineligible. Other states are considering similar laws to allow expungement of criminal records, but the proposed laws would similarly exclude DWI offenses. This effectively places DWI offenses, regardless of the specific circumstances, in the same category as non-expungeable violent crimes.

Because it is a motor vehicle offense and not a criminal offense in New Jersey, DWI convictions are not expungible. Likewise, the arrest for DWI is not expungible, however, again, because DWI is a motor vehicle offense, the arrest is not even “of record” on any criminal database. In other words, when stopped for a DWI, the “arrest” is not entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. No one will ever know that a DWI arrest has occurred in New Jersey, unless the Motor Vehicle Commission records are checked.

Expungement, under New Jersey law, means the “extraction and isolation” of court, jail, or law enforcement records relating to a criminal matter. NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C:52-1. This includes records of criminal investigations, arrests, detention, and criminal court proceedings. The records are not destroyed, but are removed and placed in separate storage for expunged files. The only time they might be reviewed again would be by prison administrators after a subsequent conviction. Expungement for a felony conviction is available ten years after the date of sentencing. The time period is shorter for lesser offenses. Arrests and criminal charges that never result in a conviction or other formal disposition have no waiting period before a person may petition for an expungement.

Certain offenses are ineligible for expungement. This includes convictions for violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, and child endangerment. NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C:52-2(b). Records of drug convictions are ineligible for expungement if the offense involved more than a specified amount of the drug. Convictions involving official corruption also may not be expunged. New Jersey law also specifically omits motor vehicle offenses from expungement eligibility, and it applies this to DWI arrests as well as convictions. NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C:52-28. An arrest for alleged DWI that does not result in a conviction therefore cannot be expunged, but an arrest for a violent felony without a conviction potentially could be. Continue reading

As a New Jersey DWI defense attorney, I always review my client’s prior convictions to determine which, if any, can be overturned or to determine if the effect of the conviction can be minimized for sentencing issues in the current pending case. I have written in this blog quite a bit about New Jersey Post Conviction Relief, or PCR, practice, because it is so important in the assessment of an alleged multiple offender’s case.

A case that was recently decided by the Appellate Division in New Jersey, State v. Weil (decided July 5, 2011), outlines the PCR process and what is needed to seek relief from the courts.

Petitions for PCR must be filed in the court where the original conviction occurred. In a case called State v. Bringhurst, the Appellate Division stated that the time limit for filing a PCR petition in a DWI case could be relaxed from the general five year rule, since the prior conviction would “be of no moment unless and until there was a subsequent DWI conviction.” If the prior conviction is more than five years old, the defendant has to establish that any delay in filing was not the result of neglect or some other disqualifying reason. In relaxing the time limitation, the court will consider the extent and cause of the delay, whether there is any prejudice to the State, and the importance of the claim.

If you are a third or greater alleged DWI offender in New Jersey, you are looking at mandatory 180 days in jail. Certainly, the best form of relief is to fight and win the current case. Otherwise, the only way to avoid jail if you are convicted is to seek “Post Conviction Relief” (PCR) from your prior convictions.

As a DWI lawyer in New Jersey, when I am representing a client with a pending third offense, I always review the prior convictions to see whether relief can be obtained from the prior courts in one of two ways:

  • Seeking to vacate the prior conviction altogether, based on constitutional errors by the judge, prosecutor, or defense attorney, and then starting the case from scratch to try to win the prior DWI/DUI completely; or
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