Diversion programs, commonly known as “drug courts,” are becoming increasingly common around the country. Courts may refer a case to a local drug court in order to provide more focus on rehabilitation and recovery, rather than guilt and punishment. Defendants charged with nonviolent drug- or alcohol-related offenses may be eligible. In New Jersey, drug court procedures are mandatory for certain cases, and they may be available in some DWI cases. A recent decision by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, State v. Borges, examined some of the factors that may prevent admission of a defendant in a DWI-related case into a drug court program.
New Jersey’s drug courts are established within the existing Superior Court system. They typically involve a team of specialists in substance abuse and treatment, who work with prosecutors, court staff, probation officers, and others. Defendants who are admitted to drug court must complete various court-ordered services, submit to regular drug testing, and generally stay out of trouble. Failure to complete the program could result in jail or prison time. The use of drug court procedures is growing, with the number of voluntary admissions increasing by 25 percent between 2012 and 2013. A bill signed by the governor in 2012 makes drug court procedures mandatory in certain cases. Mandatory drug court sentencing began in 2013 in five counties, followed by four more counties in 2014.
Drug court procedures may be available in some DWI and DWI-related cases as an alternative to a jail sentence. The defendant in Borges was charged with driving while license suspended (DWLS), where the license suspension was due to a DWI conviction. The municipal court denied her request for admission to drug court. State law excludes defendants from drug court if they are subject to a mandatory minimum sentence. Since the defendant’s license suspension was due to a second or subsequent DWI conviction, state law requires a minimum jail sentence of 180 days. The municipal court therefore held that the defendant was not eligible for drug court. It did, however, offer to admit her to the program after she completed a 180-day jail sentence. The defendant refused this offer and filed an appeal.
The defendant argued on appeal that the municipal court erred by denying her drug court application and requiring her to serve a jail sentence. The appellate court affirmed the municipal court’s ruling, finding that the mandatory minimum sentence that applied to the defendant’s case precluded her from using drug court procedures prior to serving the minimum sentence. It cited a 2014 ruling, State v. French, that addressed a similar situation and reached this conclusion. Drug court procedures may be available in DWI and DWLS cases that do not involve a mandatory minimum sentence, but in this particular set of circumstances unfortunately precludes them.
If you are facing a charge of alleged driving while intoxicated in New Jersey, you should consult with a knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney. We have committed 100% of our law practice at Levow & Associates to defending the rights DWI defendants. Contact us today online or at (877) 975-3399 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
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