Court Merges Sentences in Case Involving Criminal and Motor Vehicle Charges for Driving While License Suspended

In New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) and most related offenses are not considered criminal in nature. They are instead classified as traffic or motor vehicle offenses. Driving while license suspended (DWLS) is usually a motor vehicle offense, punishable by a fine, driver’s license suspension, and potential revocation of vehicle registration. In certain circumstances, however, DWLS is a criminal offense. Prosecutors may charge a defendant with both forms of DWLS for a single alleged incident. A defendant convicted of both offenses recently argued on appeal that the trial court should have merged the penalties. The New Jersey Appellate Division agreed earlier this year in State v. Koerner. While it affirmed the conviction, it remanded the case to the lower court for resentencing.

Under New Jersey’s motor vehicle laws, a first DWLS offense carries a fine of $500. If the offense occurs during a period of license suspension for a DWI or refusal conviction, the penalty also includes vehicle registration revocation. For a second offense, the penalty includes a $750 fine and up to five days in jail. The penalty for a third or subsequent offense is a $1,000 fine and up to ten days in jail. If a second, third, or subsequent offense occurs within five years of a prior DWLS conviction, the defendant is also subject to registration revocation. Municipal courts typically hear motor vehicle cases.

The state can charge a person with criminal DWLS in two situations: (1) when the individual has a prior traffic conviction for DWLS during a period of license suspension resulting from a DWI or refusal conviction; or (2) when the alleged offense occurs while the individual’s license is under suspension for a second of subsequent DWI or refusal conviction. In both cases, it is a crime of the fourth degree, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in county jail. New Jersey’s sentencing statute allows sentences of up to eighteen months for crimes in the fourth degree. The New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division is the venue for most criminal cases.

The defendant in Koerner was charged with criminal and motor vehicle DWLS. The Law Division heard both cases. A jury convicted the defendant of criminal DWLS, and the judge convicted her of the traffic offense. The judge sentenced her to 364 days in jail, with parole eligibility after 180 days, followed by five years of probation. On the motor vehicle offense, the judge imposed the minimum sentence for a third or subsequent offense, which included a fine, license suspension, and registration revocation.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court should have merged the penalties for the two DWLS convictions. The court agreed, citing a 2016 decision, State v. Frank, which reached the same conclusion for the offense of leaving the scene of an accident under criminal and motor vehicle law. The court noted, however, that mandatory penalties are not subject to merger. It merged the jail sentences for the two convictions, but allowed the other penalties to stand.

DWI attorney Evan Levow advocates for the rights people charged with alleged DWI in New Jersey municipal courts. He can guide you through the court process and defend you against the state’s charges. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and knowledgeable team, please 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 Reverses Criminal DWLS Convictions Based on Recent Precedential Decision, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 2, 2016

Felony DWLS Conviction Overturned by New Jersey Appellate Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 20, 2015