New Jersey Court Rules on “Speedy Trial” Claim in Refusal Appeal

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees multiple rights in criminal cases. New Jersey does not treat driving while intoxicated (DWI) as a criminal offense, but the courts of this state have extended some of the Sixth Amendment’s protections to DWI cases, including “the right to a speedy and public trial.” A defendant who believes they have been denied this right can challenge the indictment. The U.S. Supreme Court has identified several factors to consider in this sort of challenge, and New Jersey courts have held that the denial of the right to a speedy trial should result in the dismissal of the charges. The Appellate Division reviewed these factors last summer in State v. Kurek, in which a DWI defendant sought the dismissal of a case that lasted almost three years.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 ruling in Barker v. Wingo identified four factors that courts should consider regarding the right to a speedy trial:  (1) the length of and (2) the reasons for the delay, (3) the circumstances of the defendant’s assertion of the right to a speedy trial, and (4) the prejudice, if any, to the defendant’s interests as a result of the delay. The court did not specify an amount of time that should be considered reasonable, preferring to allow courts to look at the circumstances of each case. The New Jersey Supreme Court has stated a general principle, in 2013’s State v. Cahill, that a court should consider the remaining Barker factors if the delay lasted more than a year.

Delays that are caused by the prosecution or by the court itself weigh in favor of the defendant, unless the court concludes that “the delays “were reasonably explained and justified.” A “neutral reason for delay such as . . . a heavy caseload” weighs in the defendant’s favor, although not as much as fault on the part of the government. If a court finds that the defendant is responsible for the delay, the defendant’s challenge is not likely to succeed.

The defendant in Kurek was arrested in January 2011 and charged with DWI, refusal to submit to breath testing, and reckless driving. According to the Appellate Division, the municipal court proceeding spanned almost three years, from April 2011 to January 2014, and included nine court hearings. The defendant eventually entered a guilty plea on the refusal charge. The court granted prosecutors’ request for a directed verdict of not guilty on the DWI charge, and the court convicted the defendant of reckless driving. The defendant appealed on several grounds, including a denial of the right to a speedy trial.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court rulings, which denied the defendant’s speedy trial claims. The court found that the delay in the case was mostly attributable to the defendant, as “a result of defendant’s attorney seeking additional discovery of items not in the possession or control of the State.” It also found that the defendant did not raise a speedy trial objection until after the trial had started. The Barker decision noted that the lack of a speedy trial objection during the period of delay “make[s] it difficult for a defendant to prove that he was denied a speedy trial.”

If you are facing charges of alleged DWI in a New Jersey court, DWI attorney Evan Levow can help you understand your rights and prepare a strong defense for your case. Contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Supreme Court Declines to Find that the Constitution Requires Jury Trials in Third-Offense DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 2, 2016

New Jersey Supreme Court Dismisses DWI Charge, Finding that Defendant’s Right to a Speedy Trial Was Violated, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 7, 2014

Speedy Trial Issues in New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, May 26, 2011

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