New Jersey Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Defendant Charged with DWI
We previously discussed the implications of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial in the New Jersey Municipal courts. Municipal Court Defendant’s Right to a Speedy Trial.
Yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on a key issue for Defendants charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). In State v. Cahill (A-47-11)(068727), the Court ruled that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated. Thereby reversing the municipal court and vacating the Defendant’s guilty plea to driving while intoxicated (DWI).
The facts of the case are undisputed. On October 27, 2007 the Defendant was involved in an automobile accident which caused personal injury to the driver of the other vehicle. The Defendant was taken to the police station where he provided breath samples. The Alcotest recorded a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit of .08. The Defendant was subsequently issued tickets for DWI, reckless driving, consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle, and possession of an open container.
On April 10, 2008, a grand jury returned an indictment for fourth-degree assault by auto. On September 19, 2008, the Defendant plead guilty to that charge and he was sentenced on November 14, 2008 to a one-year term of probation. That same day, the county prosecutor notified the municipal court that the motor vehicle charges, including DWI, were returned to the municipal court and that the Defendant waived double jeopardy.
Sixteen months later, on March 17, 2010, the Defendant received a letter from the municipal court stating that the motor vehicle tickets were listed for trial in April. The Defendant’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charges claiming that the delay denied the Defendant his right to a speedy trial. The Defendant argued that the delay, whether calculated from the date of arrest (twenty-nine months) or the date of sentence on the indictable offense (sixteen months), was egregious.
The Municipal Court trial judge denied the motion based upon a finding that the Defendant’s claim of prejudice was unsupported by the evidence. Thereafter, the Defendant entered a conditional plea to the charge of DWI. His driver’s license was suspended for one year and he was ordered to attend the Intoxicated Driver Resource Program. The
Defendant filed an appeal in the Law Division. The Law Division judge reversed the decision of the Municipal Court and vacated the guilty plea and DWI sentence. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the Law Division and the State appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division and rule that the State violated the Defendant’s constitutionally protected right to a speedy trial. The Court held that the four-factor analysis set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) remains the governing standard to evaluate claims of denial of the federal and state right to a speedy trial.
In Barker v. Wingo, the United States Supreme Court established a four-factor balancing test to evaluate claims of speedy trial violations. It directed courts to consider the length of the delay, reason for the delay, assertion of the right by a defendant, and prejudice to the defendant. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972).
In this case, the New Jersey Supreme Court first determined the length of the delay to be sixteen months and noted that the State offered no justification for the delay. In fact the Court stated that the delay was due entirely to neglect by the State. The Court determined the delay to be the period from the date the matter was remanded to the municipal court and the Notice of Trial. Next the Court recognized that the assertion of a right to a speedy trial is important, but the Court also recognized that a defendant does not have the obligation to bring himself to trial.
Finally, the Court concluded that any person who has had limited involvement with the criminal justice system would experience some measure of anxiety by the existence of a pending and long-unresolved charge. This is particularly true when one of the sanctions, a license suspension, would have a dramatic impact on defendant’s daily activities and ability to earn a living.
Applying the principles set forth in Barker v. WIngo, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that the Defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated. The Court ruled that a case-by-case analysis of any speedy trial denial claim is proper and rejected adoption of a bright-line try-or-dismiss rule for quasi-criminal charges.
If you or a loved one needs strong representation to defend against a DWI or Refusal in New Jersey, contact the municipal court defense lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele today. We are here to defend the charges against you. Contact us now for your confidential and free initial consultation. You can also reach us by telephone (856) 546-1350. Don’t just plead guilty and risk your driving privilege or driving record.