New Jersey Appellate Division Reviews Availability of Pretrial Intervention in Criminal Cases Related to DWI

Pretrial intervention (PTI) is available to some criminal defendants, typically people with no prior convictions, that can potentially result in the dismissal of all charges and, in many cases, the expungement of all records of the arrest and charges. Admission to the PTI program typically requires approval from the PTI program director and the prosecutor. PTI is only available for criminal defendants, so people charged with a traffic offense like driving while intoxicated (DWI) cannot apply for the program. Driving while license suspended (DWLS) based on a prior DWI conviction, however, could be considered a criminal offense. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently heard several cases involving the PTI applications of people charged with criminal DWLS.

The PTI program, according to state law, provides “early rehabilitative services or supervision” with the goal of “deter[ring] future criminal behavior,” easing criminal courts’ dockets, and “permitting the least burdensome form of prosecution possible” for defendants charged with certain offenses. Under Rule 3:28 of the New Jersey Rules of Court, a judge may postpone criminal proceedings for a maximum of thirty-six months once a defendant has been accepted into the PTI program. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the court dismisses the charges. If the defendant fails to meet the conditions of the program, the court can place the case back on its trial docket.

DWLS becomes a fourth-degree criminal offense if it occurs during a suspension period that results from a second or subsequent DWI conviction or a prior DWLS conviction. The statute includes a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days.

In one of the recent Appellate Division cases, State v. Escobar, arresting officers testified that they witnessed the defendant pull his car over as he approached a DWI checkpoint, then move to the passenger seat while his wife slid into the driver’s seat. They stated that the defendant denied driving even after they told him that they saw him driving and switching seats. He was charged with fourth-degree DWLS on the grounds that his license was suspended due to a third DWI conviction. Although he had no criminal record, the PTI program director denied his application, citing “a continuing pattern of disrespect for the law.”

Prosecutors in another case, State v. Darling, objected to the defendant’s admission to PTI despite the program director’s approval. They noted the mandatory minimum sentence in the fourth-degree DWLS statute, and argued that the deterrent effect of this provision “would be undermined if someone…were permitted to escape prosecution through a diversionary program.” In State v. Doctor, both the PTI program director and the prosecutor objected to PTI admission, citing the defendant’s “two prior DWI convictions” and her alleged “fail[ure] to understand the extent of her alcohol problem.”

In all three cases, the Appellate Division ruled against the defendants’ admission to PTI. The ruling in Doctor noted that the court could only overturn a denial of admission “in case of a gross and patent abuse of discretion.” The court found no reason to disturb the trial courts’ findings.

A DWI charge in New Jersey can have a profound impact on your life, even in you are never charged with, or convicted of, an offense. An experienced and knowledgeable DWI lawyer can protect your rights and prepare an effective defense for your case. We have dedicated our entire law practice at Levow DWI Law, P.C. to defending DWI cases, and we are available 24/7 to help you. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Laws Regarding Alcohol, Minors, and DWI, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 19, 2016

Federal Agency Calls for Further Lowering of the Legal BAC Limit in DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 29, 2015

New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Important Ruling on Pretrial Intervention, Which Is Still Not Available in DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 1, 2015

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