Just about everyone knows there are severe ramifications for driving while intoxicated. In fact, NJSA 39:4-50 shows an escalating amount of penalties based on the repetitive nature of the offenses. Without question, the harshest sentencing goes to those with third or subsequent DWI conviction.
According to the statutory language, a person convicted of a third or subsequent DWI offense may be subjected to a fine of up to $1,000. Meanwhile, he or she can also count on losing driving privileges for ten years. There is also a question of imprisonment for continuing to drive while intoxicated.
Most would prefer that jail time was as subjective as the judicial mandate setting the fine. However, the statute states that a third or subsequent DWI conviction means that the defendant …”shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than 180 days in a county jail or workhouse, except that the court may lower such term for each day, not exceeding 90 days, served participating in a drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program approved by the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center.”
A couple of weeks ago, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered the way a municipal court judge interpreted the sentencing guidelines for a repetitive DWI offender. The case is considered precedential law.
Defendant Guilty of Multiple DWI Convictions
The court approved State v. Anicama on July 13, 2018. The case originates from a Hudson County municipal court appeal. According to the facts, Pedro Anicama pled guilty to driving under the influence on May 20, 2015. He admitted to drinking beer and whiskey and getting behind the wheel. Even after Pedro hit a parked car, he continued to drive.
When Pedro arrived home, the police stopped him. The officers found both cocaine and an open bottle of whiskey in his car. They subsequently arrested him and filed a number of charges.
A record check revealed that Pedro already had three DWI convictions. Additionally, the defendant had a prior conviction for a controlled substance.
Since the arrest was made in East Newark, the case was referred to the Borough’s Municipal Court. Pedro’s attorney arranged a plea agreement with the municipal prosecutor. This resulted in dismissal of some of the charges – although the defendant would still need to pay fines and suffer a ten year loss of his license.
The matter of jail time became an important focus of the matter. Pedro owned a restaurant and was concerned that he would lose the business if forced to serve the 180 day sentence all at once. He requested that he serve his time two days weekly. The Municipal Court Judge ordered the defendant to serve the sentence – provided that the two days occurred consecutively.
Subsequent to the sentencing, the prosecutor appealed – stating that the sentencing was illegal.
As far as the law is concerned, this type of sentencing is considered periodic service. This means that not all the days need to be served consecutively – as long as the total number of days equals to the statutory requirements.
Municipal court cases brought on appeal go to the Superior Court’s Law Division for consideration of a sole judge. Upon review of the matter, the Law Division Judge decided that periodic service was not an option that the lower court judge could entertain. Pedro was therefore ordered to consecutively serve the 180 days of jail time. He appealed the ruling.
Despite legal arguments advanced by Pedro’s attorneys, the Appellate Division agreed with the Law Division’s ruling. The Municipal Court Judge did not have the authority to order periodic service in fulfillment of the 180 days of jail time. The implications were that the Legislature intended the sentence to be served one day after another – rather than limited to weekend imprisonment.