The state laws regarding the penalties for driving on a suspended license have been clarified thanks to a recent ruling from the New Jersey Appellate Court. According to the three-judge panel, anyone who pleads guilty to or is convicted of driving on a suspended license with a record of DUI/DWI charges cannot utilize home supervision or alternative programs to serve out their jail sentences.
To be clear, the crime of driving while suspended for DWI will only apply if it is either that individual’s second driving while suspended on a DWI offense (where the DWI is a first offense), or the individual is driving while suspended for DWI when he or she has at least two DWI convictions.
By law, these defendants must spend a minimum of 180 days in jail and cannot apply for parole at any time. In the Appellate Court’s ruling, Judge Michael Haas stated that any “sentence to a noncustodial, ‘alternative’ program,’ instead of jail, is illegal.”
The decision comes as a follow-up to State v. French, which is a case that was heard in the Appellate Court last year where a panel of judges ruled that ordering a defendant to serve 90 days in jail and then 90 days in an in-patient rehabilitation center could not be used to fill the 180-day jail sentence requirement.
Illegal Sentencing Practices
In the consolidated case presented to the Appellate Division, State v. Harris, six defendants pleaded guilty to driving while their licenses were suspended for their DUI history in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26b.
This crime is a fourth-degree offense and the law requires the 180-day jail sentence. However, the judges who issued these sentences said that the defendants could serve their time either at home as part of the Home Electronic Detention System, or in the County Supplemental Labor Services Program.
The appeal came at the request of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, who argued that the judges’ sentences were illegal. Assistant Prosecutor Jason Magid said that their appeal was a restatement of the decision made in French, which “from a societal perspective…highlights the legislature’s and the courts; clear purpose and intent to protect the public from these recidivist offenders.”
Haas said that sentencing drivers to house arrest or community service does not have the same measure of protection for the surrounding population like the mandatory jail sentence does. This is an important consideration, Haas said, because the statute involves drivers who have already been sentenced for impaired driving crimes and continue to drive even after their licenses have been suspended.
In their decision, which confirmed the complaint from the prosecutor’s office, the Appellate Court cited the language of the statute, which reads: “The sentence shall include a fixed minimum sentence of not less than 180 days during which the defendant will not be eligible for parole.” This language, the court stated, does not leave room for sentencing alternatives.
However, critics of the appellate court’s ruling have said that the criminal punishments for violating house arrest or community service requirements put them in line with traditional incarceration. Several DWI attorneys found the appellate court’s interpretation to be conservative, noting that it ignores the New Jersey court system’s ongoing use of alternative solutions for penalties.
Drivers who have had their licenses suspended due to drunk driving convictions may find themselves facing similar sentence requirements in the coming months, New Jersey DUI lawyers at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA say. For more information or a legal consultation, contact an HCK attorney today.