DWI Laws in New Jersey
How Your Case Proceeds1. Arraignment
Arraignment is the day to explain to defendants what the charges are and their legal rights. This date is written on your ticket. Usually a DWI arraignment is scheduled much sooner than other motor vehicle charges. It may be scheduled within a week. It is very important not to miss this date. If you miss it, a warrant may be issued. If you retain an attorney before this date, you usually do not have to appear for arraignment.
2. Pre-Trial Conference
When you retain an attorney, in most cases, the attorney will go to court one or more times before the day of trial. At such pre-trial conferences or hearings, the court will be interested in what the State and the defense are doing to settle preliminary issues such as information the State is required to disclose (referred to as "discovery"), lists of witnesses each side expect to call, and any other issues to be settled so that the case can go to trial.
3. Suppression Hearing
You have a right to a separate pre-trial hearing for the court to decide if the police violated your rights when they stopped your car and arrested you. Your attorney will apply for this hearing.
4. No Plea Bargaining
New Jersey Supreme Court Municipal Court Guideline 4 says: "No plea agreements whatsoever will be allowed in drunken driving or certain drug offenses." Find an experienced attorney to fight your case. The court will give two choices only: 1) plead guilty or 2) try your case. You cannot win if you do not fight. New Jersey does not allow for a restricted or work driver license. Rely on my experience to try your case.
The municipal court will hear evidence and decide guilty or not guilty. There is no jury in municipal court. The judge decides. The State has to prove its case to overcome a defendant's presumed innocence. You have the right to stay silent, or the right to testify. Your attorney will advise which is better for you.
If the court decides on a verdict of guilt, sentence can often be stayed (not put into effect) during the time an appeal is to be filed and decided. In cases of guilt, an attorney must be thoroughly prepared for all sentencing issues, including having information on prior convictions which, if attacked, may lower sentencing level from, for example, a third to a second or a second to a first offense level sentence. If you were convicted, you may be able to appeal or to file a petition to reopen your case. See Convicted? How To Reverse It for more information.