Supreme Court Changes Plea Bargaining Rules

On July 1, 2005, amendments to guidelines for Operation of Plea Agreements in Municipal Courts in New Jersey were amended by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The most significant change prohibited prosecutors from plea bargaining refusal cases where the Defendant has been charged with DWI and Refusal, where these offenses are first offenses.

While plea bargaining in refusal cases had been permitted by the Rules in the past, the Supreme Court apparently determined that it was necessary to change these Rules due to an anomaly in the Statute adopted by the Legislature, which went into effect in January 2004.  This change created a new offense, where intoxication could be determined if a Blood Alcohol Content was less than a .10% Blood Alcohol Content, but equal to or more than a .08% Blood Alcohol Content.  Since the Legislature also provided for a shorter suspension of only three months where the Blood Alcohol Content was less than .10% Blood Alcohol Content or where no Blood Alcohol Content was determined, the Court apparently perceived a problem with the Legislature’s scheme to the extent that a Defendant refusing to take the breath test would be sentenced to a three-month suspension, while a Defendant providing a breath sample could be suspended from seven months to a year.

At the same time, the Supreme Court Rule change provided that Prosecutor’s could not plea bargain DWI cases where breath test results were .10% Blood Alcohol Content or higher to offenses where the three-month suspension could be applied.