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DWI Step-Down Sentencing

January 15, 2015 | Posted In Drunk Driving - DUI/DWI

The state Supreme Court recently ruled that drunk driving offenders with multiple convictions can use the state’s “step-down” provision more than once, DUI/DWI lawyers in New Jersey report, provided the most recent offense is at least 10 years after the prior charge for each application. This ruling, in a unanimous decision, will allow persons charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to reduce their jail sentences, although the provision will not cover any fines or charges assessed as a result of a conviction.

What is Step-Down Sentencing?

In New Jersey, the step-down provision is set forth in N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3) that allows a qualifying drunk driver to reduce his or her jail time in sentencing. In order to use the step-down provision, 10 years must have passed between the last two drunk driving charges. The step-down provision would allow a driver charged with DUI to be considered one “step down” from the number of charges he or she has on record.  For example, a second-time offender with a DUI conviction from 11 years ago could use the provision to reduce jail sentencing to that of a first-time offender.

State v. Revie

The state Supreme Court made their determination in the case of State v. Revie. The defendant, James Revie, was convicted for his first drunk driving offense in 1981 in Hillsdale, N.J., and in 1982, he pleaded guilty to a second DWI charge without being represented by an attorney. His third conviction for drunk driving was in Montvale, N.J. in 1994. Because more than 10 years had passed between the 1981 conviction and the 1994 conviction, Revie was able to use the state’s step-down provision to reduce his jail sentence for his third conviction.

In 2011, Revie was convicted of a fourth drunk driving offense in Wharton, N.J. Again, 10 years had passed since his prior conviction in 1994, so he tried to argue the application of a step-down provision to his jail sentence. In municipal court, the judge ruled that Revie could only use the step-down provision one time and sentenced him to 180 days in jail, a 10-year license suspension and more than $1,300 in fines as a third-time drunk driving offender. Revie appealed his sentencing to the state Supreme Court. If he were allowed to use the step-down provision, he would have been charged as a second-time DUI offender and sentenced to between 2 and 90 days in prison, a substantial difference from the original 180 days.

The state Supreme Court examined a 1981 statement involving the step-down provision in their ruling: “Any second offense occurring more than 10 years after the first offense [should] be treated for sentencing purposes as a first offense and…any third offense occurring more than 10 years after the second conviction [should] be treated for sentencing purposes as a second offense.” The language does not put a limit on how many times the step-down provision can be used. The court reversed Revie’s original sentencing.

Step-down sentencing can only be used to reduce jail time, the court stressed, not fines, license suspension or other DUI conviction requirements. However, in most cases, the reduced jail sentence can significantly change the impact of a conviction, DUI/DWI lawyers in New Jersey say. At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey law firm, our attorneys represent any driver looking to reduce his or her sentence for a drunk driving charge. 

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