March 26

Governor Christie Vetoes DWI Sentencing Reforms

Governor Chris Christie of NJ has rejected legislation that would have allowed Judges to sharply reduce licensing suspensions for DWI and allow for the installation of ignition interlock devices instead. In fact, in vetoing the legislation, the Governor actually proposed expanding the use of te interlock devices thereby actually increasing penalities for DWI.

Under the origional bill, for a first offense for DWI with a reading of .08 to .10, a defendant would face an interlock of three months and for a reading of .10 to .15 a interlock for seven months to a year. Above .15, a defendant woud face a seven to twelve month suspensaion but could apply for the interlock after ninety days. For a second offense, a defendant would face a suspension of two to fours years instead of the current two years. For a third or more offense, a defendant would face a suspension of ten to twenty years instead of the current ten years. The law also provided for interlock devices after suspension on a second and third offense and would also make it a disorderly persons offense punishable up to six months in jail for tampering with the interlock.

The Governor’s veto requires an interlock device in conjunction with every offense. For a first offense with a reading of .08 to .10, the veto provides for an interlock of three to six months after suspension. For a reading of .10 or more, the interlock must be installed for six to eighteen months after suspension depending on the alcotest reading. For a second or subsequent offense, the veto would impose up to eighteen months to four years of an interlock device after suspension.

The Governors conditional veto is unlikely to pass the Legislature according to the law’s sponsor, Senator Nicholas Scutari. Nor is an override likely according to the Senator. The law was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA with the belief that suspensions do not keep people off the raod, people drive anyway and that interlocks are more effective at keeping drunk drivers off the road. Looks like the issue is dead for now.

March 20

N.J. Supreme Court denies post-plea civil reservations.

In municipal court if you enter a guilty plea which may also involve a civil suit or a possible civil suit, you can ask for a civil reservation which means your plea in municipal court cannot be used against you in a civil proceeding. The rule exists to allow the municipal court to adjudicate the matter in a timely fashion and not affect the civil case. However, today the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that defendants who want to keep their guilty pleas to traffic offenses from being used against them in personal injury suits cannot wait until after their pleas are entered to ask for civil reservations. The Court in Maida v. Kuskin disagreed with the Appellate Division that allowed a civil reservation when the defendant did not raise the issue until after pleading guilty to failure to report an accident. The Court held that the request for a civil reservation must be made “in open court and contemporaneously with the municipal court’s acceptance of the guilty plea”.

For expierenced attorneys, this is a no brainer. This case is an example of why it is risky to go to court without expierenced counsel. You may think “it’s only municipal court, the consequences are not bad, I don’t need an attorney”. In this case, the plea in municipal court can now be used against the defendant and liability in the civil case which may involve thousands in damages cannot be contested. An expensive lesson in why you need to hire an attorney for municipal court.

March 19

N.J. authorities cannot prosecute overseas sex case

Today the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey authorities cannot prosecute two high-school chaperones accused of having sex with three high-school students on a school trip to Germany. The Court ruled that the State did not have territorial jurisdiction since the alleged crime occurred outside the boarders of New Jersey. It would be no different if New Jersey tried to prosecute a crime which occurred in New York. Each state, and for that matter country, has the right to enforce laws and prosecute crimes within it’s boarders only. The Court concluded “When, as here, all the elements of an offense that relate to conduct that took place outside the states’s borders, jurisdiction lies elsewhere-in the state or country where the conduct occurred” The Court also agreed that the state may have had jurisdiction if there was some “preparatory” steps taken by the men while in New Jersey for the state to have jurisdiction over what allegedly occurred overseas. So if the state can prove pre-planning in the State of New Jersey, the state may have jurisdiction. The case would certainly fall on how much proof of pre-planning there is such as emails, etc.

March 17

N.J. Supreme Court strikes down bias crime law as unconstitutional.

Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court struck down the New Jersey bias-intimidaion statute as unconstitional. The statute applied based soley on the victims perception of bias, even if that was not the defendant’s motivation. The provision of the stautue made it a crime if the victim “reasonably believed” that it was done on the basis of race, gender or some other protected category. Finding that the law focuses on the victims state of mind and not the defendants and does not give adequate notice of the conduct it prohibits, the Court found that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and violates the federal due process clause. The court reasoned that here a defendant can be convicted of a crime even if a jury finds no intent to commit a crime. The Defendant could be convicted not on what he was thinking but rather on his failure to appreciate what the victim was thinking. The Appellate Division also threw out the convictions before the Supreme Court heard the case. This opinion reaffirms the concept of mens rea, meaning that a defendant must have an intention to commit a crime or a guilty mind in order for there to be a conviction in non-strict liability cases.

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