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NJ DUI Penalties: Rehab Cannot Be Swapped With Jail Time

November 3, 2014 | Posted In Drunk Driving - DUI/DWI |

A first-time drunk driving conviction is usually a wake-up call for individuals who believe they drive pretty well, even after a few drinks. If you have been caught driving drunk for the first time, typically, your New Jersey DUI lawyer can work with the prosecutor’s office to possibly get you reduced fines, lower jail time and/or avoid a lengthy license suspension, especially if you participate in rehabilitation services after your arrest. These penalties, combined with the added threat of having to install an ignition interlock device and other driving restrictions, are designed to put a driver back on the straight and narrow after a first-time DUI/DWI conviction.

The Benefits of Rehab

The benefits of these rehabilitation efforts—whether it is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, checking into a drug rehab clinic or retaking driver’s education courses—are that drivers with DUI records can be retrained to drive more cautiously and safely and get a refresher course on how to determine when they are too drunk to drive. Rehab provides periods of detoxification, if necessary, and emphasizes the importance of sober driving. But these efforts only work when the driver learns from them and demonstrates his or her understanding by maintaining a clean record going forward. That being the case, the New Jersey appellate court recently ruled that in-patient treatment at drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities cannot replace part or all of a jail sentence for persons convicted of driving on a suspended license due to multiple drunk driving convictions.

Combining Sentences Not Allowed

In New Jersey, the mandatory penalty for driving on a license that has been suspended by the courts as part of multiple DUI/DWI charges is between 9 months to 18 months in prison with a requirement that the defendant must serve AT LEAST 180 days in jail, with no option for parole for the entire 180 days. If the defendant is sentenced to 365 days in jail or more, the defendant cannot be paroled for at least nine months. This  crime is considered a fourth-degree offense, under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b). According to this statute and the Appellate Division’s ruling, a judge cannot create a sentence for this offense that combines both jail time and in-patient rehab to make up the 180-day mandatory sentence. Although most of the state’s statutes concerning DWI rules and regulations allow for a similar sort of "mix-and-match" creativity for sentencing purposes, the specific statute in this case does not.

In State v. French, the defendant, James French, was driving with a license that had been suspended because of his multiple DWI convictions. At the time he was caught, he had six DWI convictions in New Jersey and three in South Carolina. He had been convicted five times previously for driving on a suspended license. According to court documents, French plead guilty and was sentenced to first spend 90 days in jail and then an additional 90 days as an in-patient in a state rehabilitation facility. In the Appellate Court’s decision, the judges emphasized the statute’s use of the phrase “not eligible for parole.” This designates a mandatory minimum sentence that cannot be manipulated, changed, or substituted in any way.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our DUI lawyers represent clients who have been charged with drunk driving, driving on a suspended license or other DUI-related charges. To discuss your case or state laws regarding drunk driving, contact an HCK attorney today. 

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