DWI DEFENSE AND COVID-19 – UPDATE
As the Coronavirus pandemic seemingly winds down, New Jersey Municipal courts are starting to ramp up activity if only on a limited basis. Courts still must comply with the Governor’s social contacting Orders. To do so, they have resorted to video and phone conferencing with attorneys and defendants. These conferences usually involve discussing status of cases and possible resolution. While trials and hearings can take place by internet, defendants charged with offenses which result in a sentence involving jail or license suspension, can opt out of video trials and hearings and wait until in person court appearances resume. Of course, if cases can be resolved by agreement with the State, these pleas can be entered by electronic conference.
Practically speaking, it is uncertain how courts will handle the back log of accumulated cases which would have been resolved by now were, it not for the shut down. Towns will be very interested in recapturing lost court revenues upon which they rely to remain solvent. Courts will be encouraged to resolve cases as quickly as possible. The question remains however, whether in person appearances will be possible with health considerations in mind. Anyone having been in municipal courts will know that they are frequently conducted in small rooms, with small access areas both entering the court and at violation clerk windows where fines are paid.
At the same time, Motor Vehicle Commission employees have not returned to work, as is the case with many municipal workers such as record room employees who must provide police reports, video recordings and other discovery before cases can move forward.
Finally, there is no way of knowing how the events in Minnesota will affect the way DWI cases are resolved in New Jersey. Courts and prosecutors may question the reliability of an officer’s prepared statement of what occurred on the street and back at the station, leading to the defendant’s arrest and charges being made. It is not infrequent that these reports provide accounts different from what appear on mobile video and body worn camera recordings of the same events. These differences obviously would be critical in defending and resolving a DWI case. We shall see.