On March 18, 2021, I was privileged to conduct a seminar along with several distinguished members of the Middlesex County Bar Association, preceding the annual Awards Dinner which recognized outstanding attorneys in various practice areas. The seminar addressed many of the pressing issues which confront the New Jersey Municipal Court system in general and the DWI bar in particular. An obvious issue of interest involved the continuation of virtual court conferences and in person hearings. Presently, most courts have restricted sessions to virtual conferences with few if any in person appearances for trials and suppression hearings. This has created a substantial backlog in municipal court cases. As a result, some courts are pressuring defendants to take part in virtual trials. Most trial attorneys have insisted on in person appearances for trials and motions to suppress for their clients.
Another issue addressed was the question of Drug Recognition Evaluation testimony in cases where the State charged operation under the influence of something other than alcohol. The case presently before the New Jersey Supreme Court will determine whether DRE testimony can be considered “scientifically reliable” to the extent that courts can rely on what these witnesses testify they believe regarding the effect of drug use before driving.
The “Cassidy” issue was also discussed, which involves the Supreme Court’s decision that about 10,000 breath tests conducted some time ago, could not be considered as evidence of intoxication in DWI cases. This is because the Trooper doing the periodic inspection to determine whether the breath test machine was in proper working order, failed to follow the entire procedure required to make this determination. We are still waiting for the State to provide guidelines on how applications for post-conviction relief can be made in these cases.
Of course, a good deal of discussion revolved around the recent amendments to the DWI statute which in many cases, allows for vehicle operation after conviction when an Interlock device is installed in the defendant’s vehicle. More discussion involved problems in obtaining police records, audio and video recordings and how to obtain proper relief from the court when this discovery has been destroyed by the police.
I truly enjoy presenting seminars to the Bar and discussing the issues of the day with colleagues. I appreciate the opportunity to do this and look forward to returning to the time when these offerings can be live and in person.