By: Brian W. Kincaid, Esq. and James E. Shepard, Esq.
The reality is that most residents from the State of New Jersey will likely never be called into a courtroom during their lifetime. The exception to this reality is the hometown courtrooms of our state – the municipal courts of our various towns and municipalities throughout New Jersey. The most common reason for an individual to find themselves in a municipal courtroom environment is due to a motor vehicle violation.
In New Jersey, the automobile is not merely a convenience and the ability to be a licensed driver is not merely a privilege – driving is a way of life. To have a driving privilege revoked means the possible loss of employment, severe restrictions on recreational opportunities and not being able to engage in day to day activities that everybody takes for granted.
The municipal courts of the State of New Jersey have the power to suspend driving privileges, impose draconian fines/surcharges as of result of motor vehicle offenses and even have the ability to incarcerate an individual in such circumstances. Given the ramifications and possible dire consequences of appearing in a municipal court for a motor vehicle violation, proper legal representation is essential to ensure the best possible outcome when appearing in municipal court.
Driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI), driving without insurance and driving at high rates of speed are examples of offenses commonly dealt with in New Jersey’s municipal courts that can result in significant periods of license suspension, large fines/surcharges and possible jail. To appear in court facing such charges, without an attorney, can result in disastrous consequences. Regarding any of the aforementioned charges, an individual needs to be aware that the state, through the municipal prosecutor, must prove its case. This is why retaining an attorney is essential when confronted with charges in municipal court.
Driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) is the most serious of motor vehicle offenses. A first offense for driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) carries at least a three (3) month suspension time in New Jersey (provided that the blood alcohol level is under 0.10), significant fines and $1,000 per year surcharges, for a period of three (3) years, for the privilege of driving once again. In the event the blood alcohol level on a first offense is 0.10 or above, the license suspension increases, on first offense, to a suspension of seven (7) months to twelve (12) months. There is no provision under New Jersey statutes for a limited license that would permit an individual convicted of DWI to drive to work.
It was worth repeating that the State of New Jersey, through the municipal prosecutor, must prove its case in the instance of driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI). Often, but by no means always, evidence will show that there was a flaw in either the field sobriety tests conducted by the police or the administration of the Alcotest (formerly known as the breathalyzer) that may preclude a conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI). Given what is at stake, hiring an attorney who knows what to look for as to flaws in the field sobriety tests or the Alcotest administration is essential to mounting a defense.
The penalties for subsequent offenses for driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) increase exponentially. A second offense requires a two (2) year suspension of driving privileges, installation to ones vehicle of an ignition interlock device (paid for by the driver) and possible incarceration. Accordingly, a second offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) is a most serious matter.
A third offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) requires a penalty of a ten (10) year suspension of driving privileges and mandatory incarceration. The incarceration requirement for a third offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) includes 180 days in jail.
New Jersey Law does provide for what is called a “step down” in which a second offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) will be treated, for penalty purposes, as a first offense or a third offense will be treated as a second offense. The window of opportunity for such a “step down” is extremely limited, however, if the right set of circumstances exists (time between offenses) a significant reduction in penalties can be achieved.
There is no right in New Jersey, when arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI), to refuse to take the Alcotest exam (breathalyzer). If an individual refuses to submit to the Alcotest when arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) then that person can be charged with the offense of “refusal”. The penalties for refusing to take the breath exam (breathalyzer) and for driving while intoxicated (DWI, DUI) are nearly identical. However, again, there are a limited number of defenses that may preclude a conviction for what is known as “refusal”. The ability to mount a defense for a charge of “refusal”, if applicable, competent legal counsel should be retained when confronted with such a charge.
The accumulation of motor vehicle points in New Jersey can result in suspension of driving privileges. Additionally, New Jersey drivers may find themselves penalized, by their automobile insurance carrier, as a result of accumulation of motor vehicle points. In the right circumstances, a downgrade of the moving violation is achievable which would result in a plea to a lesser offense that does not require the imposition of motor vehicle points. Competent legal counsel, in such circumstances, is the best way to achieve results in Municipal Court in order that imposition of motor vehicle points by the state Motor Vehicle Commission is either limited or does not occur.
Young drivers (and drivers who hold “CDL” licenses) may be subject to enhanced measures as a result of motor vehicle moving violations. Certain offenses, including possession of controlled dangerous substance or alcohol, even when not driving, can result in a young driver having their driving privileges suspended for significant periods of time. Accordingly, it is essential for a young person when confronted with charges in municipal court to obtain legal counsel.
It is the legal tradition in the United States that the State has the burden of proof against a defendant to prove the defendant “guilty”. The municipal courts in the State of New Jersey are no exception. Given the state’s obligation of having to prove an individual “guilty” and the potential ramifications of a motor vehicle conviction in the Municipal Court, an individual facing motor vehicle related charges in New Jersey obtain legal counsel who is thoroughly familiar with the New Jersey motor vehicle laws and the workings of the New Jersey municipal courts.
For more information please contact via email James E. Shepard, Esq. or by phone at 973-538-4700 ext. 120.
Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard, PC is general practice law firm of more than 50+ attorneys serving clients in New Jersey and New York. For over 25 years the firm has offered innovative solutions to business and individuals in the areas of asset protection business planning, civil litigation, creditor representation in the areas of foreclosure, bankruptcy and collections, elder law, family law, personal injury, tax, and trusts and estates. For more information, go to www.feinsuch.com.
This Article does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney-client relationship.
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