Update on DWI Issues Currently before the New Jersey Supreme Court

Cases that may have a profound effect upon DWI law

January 2014 — Various interesting issues are now before the New Jersey Supreme Court. These cases will probably be resolved within the next few months. They may have a profound effect upon the law involving Driving While Intoxicated.

The first cases involves the question of whether the offense of refusing to provide a breath sample should be enhanced as a result of a prior conviction for Driving While Intoxicated. By “enhanced” we mean that the penalties for the offense became much more severe. A recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision determined that a conviction for Driving While Intoxicated, which followed a conviction for Refusing to Provide a Breath Sample, should not result in an enhancement. The case now before the Court deals with a similar issues but with the DWI offense occurring before the Refusal conviction. If the Supreme Court’s rationale in the earlier case holds, that DWI and Refusal are in effect, separate offenses even though appearing in the same Statute, the subsequent refusal should not be enhanced.

Another case before the Supreme Court involving enhanced penalties, involves the questions of when an individual charged with a second and third DWI offense is entitled to more than one “step-down”. The “step-down” provisions in our DWI Statute allow for a driver to be considered as a first offender when a second offense occurs more than 10 years after a first offense and a second offender when a third offense occurs more than 10 years after a second offense. The question now before the New Jersey Supreme Court is whether a driver is entitled to a step-down on one or two occasions. The Appellate Division previously considered this issue and determined that only one step-down was allowed.

Another interesting case considers when a urine sample can be taken from a defendant to determine whether alcohol or drugs are present in blood. This case considers the recent United States Supreme Court decision requiring a search warrant before taking a blood sample, unless emergency conditions make this impractical or consent is given by the Defendant. The Supreme Court will consider the State’s interest in obtaining proof that an offense occurred along with the defendant’s right not to be subject to unreasonable, intrusive searches.

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