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DWI Conviction without Trial Discussed

May 11, 2014 | Posted In Drunk Driving, Personal Injury/Negligence

Last month, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard arguments regarding whether the judgment of acquittal was the proper course of action for a defendant convicted of drunk driving charges, based on evidence that was presented only in a pretrial suppression hearing, and never at an actual trial. Drunk driving attorneys in New Jersey report that the court’s decision will be instrumental in determining what should happen in similar cases in the future, based on the proceedings of State v. Gibson.

Bruno Gibson, of Winslow Township, was stopped by a local police officer in November of 2007 for speeding and failing to use his turn signal. At the traffic stop, the officer performed a series of field sobriety tests as well as a blood test to determine Gibson’s blood alcohol content level, and charged him with drunk driving. At his suppression hearing, Gibson and his drunk driving attorney disputed the officer’s claim that Gibson had failed the field sobriety test. The defense also raised questions regarding the proper chain-of-custody procedures that had been violated in handling the blood sample. The prosecution offered to have the arresting officer testify a second time.

Municipal Court Judge Caryl Amana heard arguments from both sides regarding the chain-of-custody and the field sobriety test, and found Gibson guilty based on these arguments, even though there had been no proper trial. On de novo review, Gibson was still found guilty, but Camden County Superior Court Judge Ronald Freeman determined that the procedure was faulty. Gibson’s case went to the Appellate Division, where the judges ruled that his right to due process had been violated, and advised that he should be acquitted. 

Now, drunk driving lawyers in New Jersey say, the decision has been left with the state Supreme Court. Gibson’s case is complex, mostly because of the double jeopardy rule that needs to be considered. In New Jersey, a person cannot be convicted more than once for the same crime. Although Gibson has already been convicted of a DWI for the November 2007 traffic stop, some of the Supreme Court justices feel that double jeopardy will not apply because the fault was due to trial error—namely, the lack of one. 

Supreme Court justice Barry Albin opined that it might have been best to consider a whole new trial for Gibson, especially in light of the fat that he did not receive one. The Appellate Court’s motion to acquit him of the charges was incorrect, according to a local judge, because Gibson’s right to due process affords him the right to challenge the evidence against him at trial, rather than in a suppression hearing. 

Every person has the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers, and at the New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal and drunk driving attorneys want to ensure that your rights are protected in every step of a criminal investigation and trial. If you have questions regarding the constitutionality of a previous trial, or need legal representation for a criminal conviction, contact an attorney at HCK for a free, no-strings consultation today. 

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