In New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a serious offense that can carry significant penalties. A DWI defense attorney’s job is to advocate for and protect their client’s rights with both prosecutors and the court. Often, we are able to get a DWI charge reduced to something less serious, or even dismissed altogether. A conviction is not necessarily the end of a case, though. A defendant who has been convicted of DWI might have several options for continuing to fight for their rights.
How DWI Convictions Happen
Before discussing a DWI defendant’s options after a conviction, it is important to understand how convictions occur. In New Jersey DWI cases, a conviction can happen when:
– A defendant pleads guilty; or
– A municipal court judge finds the defendant guilty after a trial.
A defendant can enter a conditional guilty plea, which allows them to appeal the verdict on certain grounds.
Appealing a conviction is not the only way to continue fighting. Post-conviction relief (PCR) gives defendants an opportunity to challenge a conviction in the same municipal court that found them guilty.
While a defendant has a very narrow window of time to file an appeal, they can file a petition for PCR up to five years after their conviction. If the purpose of the petition is “to correct an illegal sentence,” Rule 7:10-2 of the New Jersey Rules of Court states that no time limit applies at all. The rule also states that PCR is not a substitute for the appeals process. A defendant may not file a PCR petition during the period of time when they could still file an appeal.
The New Jersey Appeals Process
A defendant can appeal a conviction for DWI if they believe that prosecutors or the municipal court violated their rights. They cannot appeal simply because they believe they should not have been convicted. They must be able to point to a specific problem.
All DWI cases in New Jersey begin in municipal court. There are up to four levels of appeal after that, although very few cases ever reach the highest levels.
Within twenty days of a guilty verdict in municipal court, a defendant can file an appeal with the Superior Court, Law Division. This court will conduct a trial de novo, meaning that the court will conduct a new trial that looks at the same evidence presented to the municipal court.
Next, a defendant has forty-five days from the Law Division’s ruling to appeal to the Superior Court, Appellate Division. This court must accept the factual findings of the lower courts. All it can do is review the legal conclusions.
New Jersey Supreme Court
A defendant has twenty days after the Appellate Division issues its decision to give notice to the New Jersey Supreme Court that they intend to appeal, followed by a petition for certification within ten days of the notice. Unlike lower courts, the state’s highest court does not have to accept the case.
U.S. Supreme Court
It is possible to appeal a decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, but the court agrees to hear less than three percent of the petitions it receives. It only accepts a DWI appeal every few years.
If you are facing charges of alleged DWI in a New Jersey municipal court, DWI attorney Evan Levow can explain your rights and options and guide you through the process. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.