The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that individuals accused of driving drunk in this state do not have an unconditional right to a jury trial. Drunk driving is a motor vehicle offense and is not considered a criminal offense in New Jersey. The punishments for repeat drunk driving offenders do not rise to the level of seriousness requiring protection of the constitutional right to a jury trial.
The driver in this case was accused of DWI in Ventnor. He had three prior DWI convictions. Because of the likelihood of serious penalties, he demanded a jury trial. A municipal judge denied his request, and the driver was later found guilty. The offender then took his case to the Supreme Court of New Jersey and argued that the punishments for his DWI and the denial of his request for a jury trial violated his Sixth Amendment rights. The court concluded that punishments for repeat offenders are not "sufficiently serious" to trigger the constitutional right to a jury trial. The court said, however, that DWI laws have reached the outer limit of punishments for a non-criminal offense. In New Jersey, penalties for DWI include thousands of dollars in fines, license suspension, and even jail time. The man in this case was a four-time offender who was sentenced to 180 days in jail, 10 years of license suspension, two years of required use of an ignition interlock device, thousands of dollars in fines, and other fees. The majority opinion stated that if the punishments for DWI were to be further increased in severity by the New Jersey legislature, then the court may have to reach a different conclusion. Ultimately, the state's highest court upheld the decision not to allow any DWI jury trials in its 5-1 ruling. This is despite the fact that 40 states currently provide DWI defendants the option for a jury trial.
When to Contact a DWI Attorney in New Jersey
Although DWI defendants in New Jersey cannot bring their case in front of a jury, they can still face very serious penalties for drunk driving. In addition to fines and potential jail time, a license suspension can make it impossible for individuals to get to and from work. Thus, this type of conviction can put one's livelihood in jeopardy and completely change their way of life. If you want to protect your rights throughout the process of dealing with a DWI charge, you need an experienced attorney on your side.