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If Disclosure of Prior Offenses Might Result in Increased Penalties, Should You Tell?

May 22, 2015 | Posted In Drunk Driving - DUI/DWI

Under New Jersey law, some offenses—including some drunk driving violations, could lead to an enhanced or harsher sentence when combined with a criminal history. This is true especially in cases where the present offense is related to a prior one, such as a second or third DUI/DWI offense or a charge of driving with a suspended license that is related to a drunk driving offense.

Recently, a New Jersey appellate court debated whether a defendant should be required to disclose prior offenses in circumstances where the criminal record will most likely have an impact on the sentencing guidelines.

In State v. Kane, the court found that the defendant, who had been charged with driving while her license was suspended, was not required to inform the arresting officers, the prosecution team or the court that the suspension in question was the result of a DWI conviction she had previously incurred.

The charges for driving while suspended as a result of a drunk driving conviction are significantly enhanced in these cases, but the defendant’s failure to disclose her prior record did not constitute fraud, according to the appellate court’s decision.

What Happened?

In January 2012, the defendant, Kane, was arrested in Ocean City for using her cell phone while driving. At that time, she had multiple DWI charges and convictions on her record and was currently serving a 10-year license suspension as a result. When she pleaded guilty to the charges for driving on a suspended license, the judge, in an intermittent sentence, ordered her to spend 30 days in jail.

According to New Jersey law, driving on a suspended license is typically a non-indictable traffic offense. But when the suspension is due to multiple drunk driving charges, the state’s motor vehicle and criminal statutes set harsher penalties, including increased jail time.

In August of 2011, before Kane’s arrest, state legislators introduced a criminal statute that lists driving on a suspended license due to DUI/DWI charges as an indictable offense and allows those accused to be prosecuted for a fourth-degree offense if they have one or more license suspension convictions and a drunk driving record.

Withholding Information

Not long after Kane pleaded guilty, she and her attorney withdrew the plea. She was indicted and sentenced to the mandatory minimum—180 days in jail. After several appeals and court hearings, the state filed an appeal claiming that Kane should have notified the courts about her DUI record and the reason for her license suspension, which would have led to her indictment.

The Appellate Court ruled in favor of Kane, finding that she and her defense attorney were not required to provide information regarding the prior charges. The appellate panel also dismissed the state’s claims that Kane had committed fraud and her attorney had breached ethics rules by failing to do so. The court reinstated her 30-day jail sentence and the original conviction for driving on a suspended license.

Know Your Rights

It is extremely important to discuss your case and your options with a New Jersey DUI lawyer before agreeing to a plea deal or disclosing information to the arresting officers, court or prosecution team that could land you in more trouble. For more information, contact the attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA.

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