What you can expect after being charged with a violation of New Jersey Drunk Driving ( NJ dwi ) Law(s).
- The Summons & Complaint. The process begins with the signing of a Summons & Complaint against you by a New Jersey Police Officer. To view a sample New Jersey Summons & Complaint, Click here.
- The Arraignment. Unlike other traffic tickets, a DWI charge requires a defendant to appear in a New Jersey court to answer the charge at an Arraignment, sometimes referred to as a “first appearance”. Note the Summons & Complaint on the bottom with a section for “Notice to Appear.” A DWI charge, unlike other offenses, required a Court appearance. Accordingly, the box in the Summons & Complaint next to “Court Appearance Required” will be checked off.
The Arraignment is a formal procedure where the Court advises the defendant of the charges against him, advises the him of his rights, and enters the plea (guilty or not guilty). By way of example, you might recall the O.J. Simpson Arraignment; Judge Lance Ito advised O.J. Simpson of the murder charges against him, and Simpson replied by entering a Not Guilty Plea (by stating “absolutely not guilty.”) – This is an Arraignment.
New Jersey Law allows a defendant to enter a Not Guilty Plea to a DWI charge through an Attorney, thereby eliminating the need for a defendant’s court appearance in most cases. There may be unique circumstances where a defendant wants to plead guilty, or it is advisable to do so (at the Arraignment). However, in the majority of cases, entering a Not Guilty Plea is the recommended course of action at the Arraignment. Preferably, the Not Guilty Plea should be done through Counsel so that Counsel can enter and preserve Constitutional issues, particularly a defendant’s speedy trial right(s).
- Pre-Trial Discovery. Following a Not Guilty Plea, the defense and prosecution are entitled to engage in a process known as pre-trial discovery (some States refer to this process as pre trial “disclosure”). By way of example, you might recall the movie “My Cousin Vinnie” where Joe Pesci, plays a Brooklyn New York rookie defense attorney defending his cousin for a murder charge. Pesci felt like he got one over on the seasoned Prosecutor by “bonding” with him during a hunting outing and getting the Prosecutor to have his entire “file” copied, boxed and given to Pesci. Pesci’s wife, who was reading the Court Rules while her husband was “bonding”, explained that the Prosecutor was obliged to turn over the documents.
The defense is entitled to review all relevant evidence in the possession of the Police and other State agencies. The Municipal Prosecutor is ultimately obliged to respond to discovery requests and to assure compliance with the State’s discovery obligations. If the Prosecutor fails to comply, the defense can apply to the Court for an Order compelling production at the risk of a dismissal or suppression of certain of the State’s evidence against the defendant (see Pre-Trial Motions discussed below).
- Pre-Trial Motions. A Motion is simply an application by counsel seeking some type of relief from the Judge. The Motion is presented to the Trial Judge (either orally in open court, or by a written formal motion). By way of example, (there re many other pre-trial motions) the defense may, if appropriate move for the following relief:
- To compel the State of New jersey to supply discovery (9f not supplied in response to defense requests),
- To suppress (i.e. exclude) Statements (based on some constitutional defect such as a failure to properly Miradize the defendant, or the lack of a knowing and intelligent waiver of Miranda rights),
- To suppress (i.e. exclude) Evidence (based on some constitutional defect, such as an unlawful stop and detention of the defendant),
- To limit testimony of State witnesses (e.g. to preclude witnesses from using the term “fail” with regard to the defendant’s performance on Field Sobriety tests, or to limit the introduction of certain sobriety tests such as the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test due to the inability of the State to prove that such tests have been regarded as scientifically reliable as an indicator of intoxication).
- To Dismiss the charges (e.g. for the State’s failure to afford the defendant his constitutional right to a speedy trial, or for the State’s failure to supply relevant and possible exculpatory evidence or the State’s inability to sustain the charge).
- Trial. There is no right to a jury Trial for a charge of DWI in New Jersey (absent a felony type DWI Charge – e.g. where there is an accident involving injuries). The Trial will be presided over by one Municipal Court Judge. The Judge will hear the evidence, make findings and of fact and law, rule on guilt or innocence and impose sentence.
It is important to repeat and remind of the old adage: “innocent until proven guilty.” The Prosecutor has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; the defense need not prove or say anything. The State calls and questions their witnesses and the defense is entitled to cross examines them.
Following the State’s case, the defense may ask the Trial Judge to enter a judgment of acquittal (arguing that all reasonable inferences lead to a finding of not guilty). If the Motion is denied, the defense case then proceeds. Defense witnesses are called and cross examined by the Prosecutor. A defendant can testify, but has no obligation to do so. The Court can not draw any inferences from a defendant’s election not to testify. The State then is entitled to put on rebuttal witnesses, concluding the Trial.
- Finding. The Court states their findings of fact and law, and announces their decision (i.e. guilty or not guilty).
- Sentencing. If the Defendant is found guilty, the Court imposes sentence. If the Defendant is acquitted, he is free to leave, and the State may not appeal.
- Appeal(s). The Defendant has twenty (20) days to appeal a conviction (to a higher Court). Appeals are heard by one Superior Court Judge who rules on the charge(s) by reviewing the Trial Transcripts and written evidence presented to the lower court – no new evidence is presented. The Court cannot impose a more severe sentence than that imposed by the Municipal Court Judge. If convicted again, the Defendant has forty five (45) days to appeal to the Appellate Division, a multi-Judge panel.
- Time Frame(s). Each case is unique and the time it takes for cases to reach trial varies. However, Municipal Courts have been instructed by our Supreme Court to dispose of DWI cases within 60 days. In that respect, DWI cases take high priority in the New Jersey Court system. You can expect your case to proceed rapidly and generally to be heard in the Municipal Court within 60 to 120 days. Appeals in the Superior Court will generally take between 90 days to 180 days to be reached – in the Appellate Division, it is not unusual for a case to be heard as long as one year after being filed.