In New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) is considered a motor vehicle offense, not a criminal offense. This has important implications for how a DWI case may proceed. In most DWI cases, jail time is largely at the court’s discretion, but fines and driver’s license suspensions are not. One situation exists, however, in which an offense directly related to DWI is considered a criminal offense, which has a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days. This occurs when a person is charged with driving while license suspended (DWLS), when the suspension is due to a conviction for DWI or certain related offenses. A New Jersey appellate court recently considered an appeal of a conviction under this statute in State v. Wagner.
A first-time DWI conviction carries a mandatory license suspension of three months. The length of the suspension increases for subsequent convictions, up to a maximum of 10 years. Other offenses may also lead to the suspension of one’s driver’s license, so the state has a DWLS statute that classifies the general act of driving with a suspended license as a motor vehicle offense. Penalties include a fine and, in some circumstances, the revocation of the defendant’s motor vehicle registration.
If a person’s license has been suspended because of a conviction for DWI or a refusal to submit to breath testing, they could face a criminal charge if they operate a vehicle under certain circumstances. The offense is a crime of the fourth degree with a minimum sentence of 180 days’ imprisonment. The statute defining criminal DWLS identifies two scenarios that could result in a criminal charge:
1. Driving during a period of license suspension caused by a first conviction for DWI or refusal, when the person already has a prior DWLS conviction during the same suspension period; or
2. Driving during a period of license suspension caused by a second or subsequent conviction for DWI or refusal.
The Wagner case involved a conviction of criminal DWLS. The defendant’s appeal did not directly address the criminal DWLS statute but instead focused on the prosecution’s conduct during the jury trial. Since DWI cases do not involve jury trials, we do not need to go into the details of the appeal. The way in which the defendant came to be charged, however, is interesting, and it demonstrates the lengths to which police will go when investigating DWI and related cases.
The case began with a hit-and-run accident. Using a license plate number provided by the other driver, police located the defendant. He denied driving the vehicle, which was registered to his spouse. The two officers who spoke to the defendant testified that they observed that the front bumper of the vehicle “didn’t match the paint exactly as the factory color would.” They visited local auto dealers to see if anyone had recently purchased matching parts, and they found one whose manager remembered someone buying parts for a different model of vehicle with the same color. The manager testified that he remembered this because it seemed odd to purchase paint—at about $100 per pint—for a vehicle that was nearly 10 years old. Credit card receipts confirmed the purchase. Police were able to use this information to build their case against the defendant.
If you are facing charges of alleged DWI, you should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable DWI attorney, who can carry out the careful planning and preparation that a New Jersey DWI case requires. At Levow DWI Law, we have dedicated 100% of our practice to helping individuals like you, and we are available 24/7. Contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Felony DWLS Conviction Overturned by New Jersey Appellate Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 20, 2015
Courts Rule on Mandatory Sentencing in Certain New Jersey DWLS Cases that Involve DWI Charges, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, May 31, 2015
Defendant Not Obligated to Disclose Prior DWI Conviction, According to New Jersey Appellate Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 18, 2015