Every state offers jury trials to at least some people who are charged with drunk driving with one exception – New Jersey. In New Jersey, drunk driving is not classified as a criminal offense, and these cases are typically prosecuted in municipal courts. The court rules that govern municipal court differ from the rules that apply to criminal prosecutions. Your strategy for defending a drunk driving charge should reflect these differences, and having the experience of a skilled DUI / DWI attorney on your side can help.
No right to a jury trial
Under New Jersey law, regardless of how many DUI convictions defendants have in their past, a DUI conviction will never result in a period of imprisonment of greater than six months. The United States Supreme Court has said that when an offense is punishable by greater than six months in jail, defendants charged with such offenses enjoy the right to a jury trial. Therefore, if a lengthier jail sentence was a possibility for a violation of New Jersey’s DUI statute, at least some defendants facing DUI charges would be entitled to jury trials.
Although the New Jersey Legislature has not increased the maximum period of imprisonment for a DUI conviction, several additional penalties have been added or enhanced over the years. Over the past fifteen years, the DUI statute was amended to eliminate the possibility that a person convicted of a third or subsequent serve a portion of the 180-day term of imprisonment in something other than a custodial treatment program; now, such individuals can serve up to 90 days of the period of imprisonment in an approved treatment program, but that program must be an inpatient facility. Since 1986, a third or subsequent DUI conviction resulted in a ten-year loss of driving privileges, but within the last ten years, the Legislature added the requirement that such defendants must have an ignition interlock device installed in the vehicle that is principally operated by the defendant for between one and three years after the expiration of defendant’s 10-year loss of driving privileges. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that despite all these penalties, DUI in New Jersey remains a “petty” offense that does not trigger a defendant’s right to a jury trial, but it is clear that a DUI conviction results in some of the most severe consequences for a “petty” offense.
Differences between municipal court and other courts
Municipal courts in New Jersey are designed to deal with minor offenses in an expeditious manner and the court rules reflect this. For example, when a criminal defendant files a motion in the Superior Court of New Jersey – meaning that the defendant is asking the court to do something, such as provide a ruling on an issue where the parties disagree – ordinarily, the motion must be made in writing, and the court will provide a schedule for addressing the issue. In contrast, in municipal court, with few exceptions, motions can be made orally. The result is that municipal court matters can progress much faster than serious criminal matters, and lawyers need to be prepared for this rapidly evolving process.
Morristown DUI Lawyer Scott Gorman is certified by the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey in the area of Municipal Court Law. His extensive experience in this area makes him the person to call if you are charged with DUI. If you are a loved one needs to defend a charge of drunk driving, contact a Morristown DUI Lawyer at The Gorman Law Firm today by calling (201) 489-9199 or reaching out to us online.