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New Jersey DWI Court Process

While every  drunk driving case in unique, the process in each case is largely the  same.  DWI cases in New Jersey are governed by the New Jersey  Court Rules.  As a result, there is a  specific process for all DWI cases in New    Jersey.

Arraignment: After an  individual is arrested for DWI, he or she must be arraigned by a municipal  court Judge.  This is primarily a  procedural formality and nothing substantive typically happens at an  Arraignment.  The Arraignment is an  opportunity for the Judge to advise the defendant of his or her rights,  responsibilities and the potential penalties associated with the DWI charge.  The defendant also enters a plea of “guilty”  or “not guilty” at this time.  An  application may also be made for the public defender, if the defendant is  unable to afford private legal counsel.   Finally, if a defendant is already represented by a lawyer prior to the  Arraignment, the Court Rules permit that lawyer to waive the client’s  appearance at the DWI Arraignment.

Discovery: After the  Arraignment, the DWI attorney will request discovery from the municipal court  prosecutor.  The prosecutor represents  the State of New Jersey  in the DWI case against the defendant.   The State is required to give the defendant’s DWI lawyer all relevant  discovery.  In essence, discovery means  the evidence the State has against the defendant.  Discovery includes police reports,  narratives, witness statements, video recordings of the arrest and/or sobriety  tests, audio recordings, scientific documents related to the breath-testing  machine, photographs and any other evidence the State may use in the case.  An experienced DWI attorney can review all of  this discovery and begin to craft a strategy for legal defense of the DWI  charges.  Indeed, this is one of the most  important phases of a DWI case.

Status  Conferences: The court  will schedule several regular status conferences throughout the DWI case.  These conferences are an opportunity for the  DWI lawyer to meet with the municipal prosecutor and discuss the case.  Often the DWI attorney and prosecutor will  address issues involving discovery.   Sometimes the defense lawyer and prosecutor will meet with the Judge to  talk about the case.  Generally, DWI  defendants are required to appear for all status conferences.

Motions: Sometimes it  becomes necessary for a DWI lawyer to file motions in the municipal court.  A Motion is a formal application to the Court  and is the way an attorney seeks particular relief. Motions can be made on a  wide variety of issues, including production of discovery, suppression of  evidence, barring testimony and dismissal.   As a general rule, Motions in municipal court are made orally.

Plea  Bargaining: A municipal prosecutor is prohibited by the New Jersey Court Rules  from plea bargaining a DWI charge.  This means that prosecutors rarely  dismiss a DWI charge unless they believe that the DWI charge cannot be won at  trial.  For a prosecutor to believe that a DWI charge cannot be won at  trial, a DWI defense lawyer must convince the prosecutor that there are  problems with the State’s case.  This will often result in a dismissal of the charge or  downgrade to a less serious offense.

Trials

If a DWI case  cannot be resolved it will proceed to trial.   DWI trials are conducted in the municipal court in which the DWI ticket  was issued.   A municipal court Judge  will preside over the DWI trial.   Defendants charged with drunk driving in New Jersey are not entitled to a trial by  jury.  During the trial, the State has the  burden to prove all of the elements of the DWI charge against the defendant  beyond a reasonable doubt.  Evidence and  witness testimony is introduced by the state and DWI defense lawyer.  Upon completion of the trial, the municipal  court Judge will decide if the State proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt  and issue a verdict.

Appeals

If a defendant is convicted of a DWI, he or she has  a right to appeal.  Appealing  the conviction may reduce the sentence or may have the charge removed from the record altogether. An appeal is not a  retrial.  Rather, it is a reexamination  of your case by a higher court to determine if your trial was conducted in a  fair manner.  Because DWI law is so  complex, it is in a defendant’s best interest to hire an attorney who focuses  exclusively on cases of this nature. Time is of the essence during an appeal.  The law limits the time you can appeal a DWI  conviction.  In New Jersey, appeal from a DWI conviction is  made to the New Jersey Superior Court.   The DWI appeal is venued in the county in which the conviction  occurred.  If the defendant loses the DWI  appeal in the New Jersey Superior Court, he or she can appeal to the New Jersey  Appellate Division.  If the defendant  loses the DWI appeal in the New Jersey Appellate Division, he or she can appeal  to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which is the highest court in New Jersey.  Below is a chart demonstrating the court  hierarchy for DWI appeals:

NJ  Supreme Court 1
NJ  Appellate Division 1
NJ  Superior Court 1
Municipal  Court