DWI and municipal court sentencing laws can be tricky, especially where there several charges alleged which could result in jail time. All DWI convictions carry a possibility of jail, and for a third offense, mandatory 6 months incarceration. Other municipal court offenses carry jail time as well. However, a municipal court may not sentence you to more than 6 months in jail for violations resulting from a single incident, no matter how much jail time you would be exposed to under each individual charge. Give my office a call to speak with an experienced municipal court attorney.
Persons charged with committing a crime are constitutionally entitled to trial by jury. Duncan v. Louisiana (1968). Those charged with petty offenses are not. Ibid. The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that the only reliable test for distinction is the severity of the authorized punishment, and that jury trial is not required unless the maximum penalty to which the defendant is exposed exceeds six months incarceration and a fine of $ 1,000. State v. Owens (1969); In re Yengo, (1980).
State v. Hamm, (1990-91), holds that there is no right to a jury trial on a third DWI offense resulting in a conviction and sentence of 180 days, notwithstanding the ten-year suspension of a driver’s license and a $ 1000 fine. See also State v. Stanton, (2003) (no right to jury trial for DWI).
Where factually related petty offenses are tried together whose maximum sentences total more than six months, and the defendant is not offered a jury trial, the sentences may not total more than six months. State v. Owens, supra. Concurrent jail sentences, each of which does not exceed six months, are permissible. Id. at 163.
The New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division recently reiterated these principles in State v. Federico, (App. Div. July 12, 2010). The defendant in Federico was guilty of driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, refusal to take a breathalyzer, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2, and driving while suspended, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40. Ibid. As a third DWI offender defendant was sentenced in the Clifton Municipal Court to a custodial sentence of 180 days, a ten-year suspension of his license, a $1,000 fine, and other miscellaneous costs and fines. Ibid. On the refusal charge defendant received a concurrent ten-year loss of license. Ibid. For driving while on a suspended license, defendant received a separate $1,000 fine, $33 in costs, a consecutive two-year suspension of his driver’s license and a consecutive 45 day jail sentence. The aggregate sentence was “12 year[s] loss of license and . . . 225 days [in] jail. Ibid.
Applying the legal principles discussed above, the Federico court held that it is unconstitutional for a defendant to be sentenced to more than 180 days of confinement on factually related offenses without the benefit of jury trial – specifically when the defendant is convicted of a third or subsequent offense of driving while intoxicated along with driving on the revoked list. The Appellate Division’s holding in Federico is directly applicable to the instant case.
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