Drivers who've been arrested for DWI offenses in New Jersey are often confused by the complicated legal framework that begins after their arrest. This step by step guide will help you understand the judicial process for DWI prosecutions, from arraignment to post-conviction relief. For more information about what happens after a DWI arrest, consult with New Jersey DWI defense lawyer Anthony N. Palumbo.
I am Anthony N. Palumbo, a New Jersey DWI lawyer who has been successfully defending clients with drunk driving charges for over 40 years. If you need an experienced DUI/DWI defense attorney call me for a free consultation at 1-866-664-8118.
1. Summons and Complaint
The ticket you receive when you're arrested for a DWI offense is known as a Summons and Complaint. The ticket will include the location, date, and time of your first court appearance, as well as basic information about your charges. If you haven't hired a lawyer to handle your case before the scheduled court date, it's extremely important to attend the proceeding, as the court can issue a warrant for your arrest and suspend your drivers license if you fail to appear.
Arraignment takes place at your first court appearance and during the proceeding the judge recites the charges against you and asks whether you're pleading guilty or not guilty. If you choose to plead guilty, the court will enter your conviction and impose a sentence. If you choose to plead not guilty, the court will adjourn the case and schedule a date for further proceedings. Although it can be difficult to find an attorney in the short time between arrest and arraignment, it's always preferable to have an experienced DWI lawyer. If you're pleading not guilty, your attorney will be able to enter the plea on your behalf, so you won't need to attend in person.
3. Pre-trial Discovery
Pre-trial discovery begins after arraignment. During this stage of the case, your defense attorney is entitled to request copies of documents and other relevant evidence being held by the prosecution, such as police reports, video recordings of your arrest, and data from any breathalyzer tests that were done.
4. Pre-trial Conference
A pre-trial conference is typically held in DWI cases about a month after arrest and during this proceeding you'll be asked whether you want to enter a plea or continue to trial. Postponements are often required at this stage, however, to allow more time for discovery and if this is the case, the court will schedule another pre-trial conference.
5. Pre-trial Motions
Prior to trial, your defense attorney may make a number of specific requests or "motions" regarding your case. Examples include motions to compel discovery, motions to exclude evidence, and motions to dismiss. These motions can sometimes determine the outcome of the case, especially when they're premised on constitutional violations that occurred during the arrest. Some motions may require the court to hold a pre-trial hearing, or the court may wait to decide the motions until after the trial.
6. Plea bargaining
Although prosecutors routinely offer plea bargains in other types of cases, the New Jersey Attorney General has prohibited their use in DWI proceedings. Even though plea deals are technically prohibited, however, prosecutors still have some discretion to reduce or dismiss the charges if your attorney presents sufficiently strong evidence or defenses on your behalf.
If your case isn't resolved through a plea or a pre-trial motion, it will be scheduled for trial in the municipal court located in the jurisdiction where you were arrested. DWI trials are usually heard within 60 to 120 days after arrest, and they are tried before a judge without a jury. The prosecution's burden at trial is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and to do this the state has to present evidence proving each element of the DWI charge. If the defense attorney is able to cast a reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case, the judge will enter an acquittal.
If you're found guilty on your DWI charges, sentencing usually proceeds immediately. The possible penalties for DWI offenses include license suspensions, fines, jail time, and community service, with more severe penalties for repeat offenders and certain types of DWI offenses. While the court must comply with the state's sentencing minimums, the judge has the discretion to determine an appropriate penalty and will do so based on the facts of your case and any mitigating or aggravating factors.
If you're found guilty by the municipal judge, you have 20 days to appeal your case to the county Superior Court. When a case is appealed, the Superior Court make its decision based on a review of the trial record alone; no new evidence or testimony is heard. If the Appellate Division confirms your conviction, you are not automatically entitled to appeal to the state Supreme Court; rather, the New Jersey Supreme Court will only accept your appeal if the case involves a constitutional issue or if one of the Superior Court judges voted to reverse your conviction.
10. Post-conviction relief
Post-conviction relief is available to challenge old DWI convictions after you've been arrested for a second or third-time offense. Although the procedure can't be used in your current DWI case, if you're arrested again you can seek post-conviction relief to invalidate the prior conviction and avoid the enhanced penalties for repeat offenders. The grounds for post-conviction relief are narrow, however, and are limited to cases where you weren't represented by competent legal counsel.
Why you need a NJ DWI defense lawyer
New Jersey DWI proceedings can be intimidating and overwhelming, even for drivers who've been prosecuted for DWIs in the past, and it can be truly harrowing for defendants who don't have a competent and zealous DWI defense attorney on their side. The first step anyone should take after being arrested for drunk driving is to consult with an experienced DWI defense lawyer. To arrange a free and confidential legal consultation, call Anthony N. Palumbo at the Law Offices of Palumbo & Renaud at 1-866-664-8118.