Conditional Guilty Pleas in New Jersey DWI Cases
A case involving alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) can have many possible outcomes, ranging from the dismissal of all charges to a conviction after a trial before a municipal court judge. Even then, a defendant might still have the right to appeal or to seek post-conviction relief. Like any kind of court proceeding, few DWI cases ever go to trial. Many DWI cases, perhaps most, result in pleas or plea agreements of some kind. New Jersey law limits the use of plea agreements in DWI cases, but a knowledgeable DWI attorney can advise their clients about whether a plea would be a good idea. One type of plea that is available in New Jersey DWI cases, the conditional guilty plea, enables a defendant to appeal certain decisions made by a municipal court before trial.
Prosecutors have the burden of proving that a defendant is guilty of each element of the offense of DWI. State law defines DWI as operating a motor vehicle either (1) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or (2) with blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. Chemical testing of a DWI suspect’s breath, blood, or urine can determine their BAC. Even without chemical test results, a prosecutor can establish that a defendant was impaired with eyewitness testimony from police officers and expert testimony from drug recognition experts.
Defending against a DWI charge could involve challenging any part of the state’s case. A DWI lawyer might, for example, challenge the validity of the initial traffic stop. If the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion of any sort of traffic violation, then the stop violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court should suppress any evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful traffic stop. A successful motion to suppress based on an unlawful traffic stop often results in dismissal of the case, since it would leave the state with very little evidence. A defendant and their attorney could also move to suppress evidence based on other violations of their rights, such as breath test results from an Alcotest device that was not in compliance with state law.
A guilty plea might be the best option in cases where the state has enough lawfully-obtained evidence to convict a defendant. The defendant would risk a conviction and a harsh sentence from the judge if they went to trial. State law actually requires a guilty plea in situations where a defendant still disputes the evidence. Rule 7:5-2(c)(2) of the New Jersey Rules of Court (NJRC) states that if a municipal court denies a motion to suppress evidence, the defendant may not appeal that denial until they have pled guilty or been convicted after a trial. The New Jersey Supreme Court has affirmed this principle.
Rule 7:6-2(c) allows a DWI defendant to enter a conditional guilty plea in order to appeal the denial of a motion to suppress and certain other pretrial motions. Unlike a regular guilty plea, the defendant may withdraw a conditional guilty plea without the court’s permission if they win their appeal.
If you are facing charges of alleged DWI in a New Jersey municipal court, DWI attorney Evan Levow can help you understand your options and advocate for your rights. Please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.