A DWI defendant may appeal either the sentence or the finding of guilty to the Law Division of the Superior Court. The New Jersey Municipal Court system of justice is one of the finest systems in the county. However, the New Jersey Municipal Courts are often influenced by local politics. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on Municipal Courts to convict DWI defendants. Moreover, there are no jury trials in a municipal court. Therefore, quite often the defendant’s best chance to have their case reviewed by a neutral and independent court is on the appeal.
TIME FOR FILING MUNICIPAL APPEAL
Under normal circumstances, an appeal to the Law Division of the Superior Court must be filed within 20 days of the entry of the judgment. However, under certain circumstances, the time period to file an appeal may be relaxed.
PROCEDURE FOR FILING AN APPEAL
An appeal by the defendant from a finding of guilt or a sentence begins with the filing of a notice of appeal with clerk of the county criminal court. The defendant must also pay a filing fee when he files the notice of appeal. The defendant must also pay a deposit between the amount of $300 to $500 to the municipal clerk to pay for the transcripts.
STAY OF SENTENCE
In a DWI case the mere filing of an appeal does not restore the defendant’s driving privileges pending the appeal. The defendant may also seek a stay of the license suspension from either the municipal court, or the Law Division. Many Municipal Courts are very hesitant to stay the license suspension pending any appeal. However, most municipal court judges will stay the imposition of any jail terms pending any appeal. Absent some extraordinary, undue hardship to the DWI driver, such an application will never be granted. The possibility for a driving catastrophe is too great a risk for most judges.
PREPARING FOR A MUNICIPAL APPEAL
The parties to a municipal appeal are permitted to advance arguments of fact and law based upon the transcript of the case in the municipal court, and any exhibits that were received in evidence. Often one of the most important exhibits will be the video of the defendant taken by the police during either the motor vehicle stop or while back at the police station. It is vital that the videotape be marked as an exhibit, authenticated, and moved into evidence at the trial level.
In a municipal DWI appeal a brief must be filed. The briefs must be comprehensive and well written. It is impossible for a pro se defendant to write a good brief. Therefore, it is always advisable to retain a on experienced lawyer on an appeal.
The case will be scheduled for a hearing before one Superior Court Judge. The hearing is referred to as a De Novo Review or De Novo Trial — this means that the Court will review the transcripts, the evidence produced at trial, and make their own findings of fact and law. The reviewing court may, but is not required, to give deference to the Trial Court’s findings of fact. While there are limited exceptions, generally, no new evidence may be introduced at the De Novo Trial.
Following the hearing, where the defendant and counsel are present along with the County Prosecutor, the County Judge makes a decision. The Judge can re-affirm a guilty verdict by making his own independent finding(s) or can find a defendant not guilty. If the court does (again) find a defendant guilty, the penalties imposed may not be greater than those penalties imposed by the municipal court.