At the heart of our criminal justice system in the United States is the right to a trial in front of a jury of your peers, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution to the United States. A jury trial works to eliminate any bias on the part of a single judge and a fair trial is essential to avoid wrongful convictions and abuse of the system by authorities. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that people charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in NJ do not have the right to a jury trial. This may make you wonder: how can this be?
In New Jersey, DWI cases are handled in municipal courts as a DWI is not considered to be a “crime.” For this reason, the sentence for a conviction is limited to six months in jail, even if a person has multiple DWI convictions on their record. Because the possible sentence is relatively short, the courts have denied jury trials and these cases are decided by a judge.
With each new DWI conviction, however, the other consequences besides jail time can substantially increase. For example, in the recent case before the NJ Supreme Court, the defendant was facing his fourth DWI charge and his sentence could possibly include the following:
- Up to six months behind bars
- Suspension of his driver’s license for ten years
- Ignition interlock device on his vehicle for two years after license reinstatement
- $1,000 in fines and hundreds more in additional costs
Because of the seriousness of the potential consequences, he requested a jury trial and the judge denied his request. The Supreme Court upheld the denial, stating jury trials for DWI cases would clog the court systems. However, the Court did note that if the penalties for multiple DWI convictions kept getting harsher in the future, defendants would need to be allowed a jury trial.
Call an Experienced New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney to Discuss Your Case
So for now, New Jersey is still one of about ten states in which defendants are not entitled to a trial by jury for a DWI. This makes it even more important for you to have high-quality representation to defend against your DWI charge and limit the consequences you face. At the Law Offices of Steven H. Fleischer, LLC, we have helped many defendants throughout NJ fight against DWI charges. If you would like to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, please call our office at 908-231-0052 today.