The DWI Case From Start to Finish

1. Arraignment

The DWI defendant is usually arraigned within a week or two of the initial arrest. If the driver hires an attorney prior to this proceeding, many times the attorney can waive your presence for the arraignment. Some judges require that you be present whether you have a lawyer already or not. At the arraignment the judge will advise the driver of the significance of the charges, and the potential sentencing ramifications.

2. Pre-trial Conference

After the arraignment date, the court will set the case down for a trial within four to six weeks of the arraignment date. If the police reports have been made available to your attorney by that time, and all of the defenses to the charges have been determined, the case can be resolved at that time either through trial or plea. However, in most cases, numerous postponements are required to obtain full “discovery”, determine your best defenses, and consult with potential experts. In many cases the Municipal Courts rush defendants and do not give them adequate time to prepare an adequate defense.

3. Suppression Hearing

The court may suppress some or all of the evidence against you if your constitutional rights have been violated. A good attorney will file motions to suppress after receiving the “discovery” or police reports regarding your arrest.

4. No Plea Bargaining

The Supreme Court has barred any plea bargaining regarding any DWI charges. The State must be able to prove its case against you beyond a reasonable doubt, or it can choose to dismiss or downgrade to a lesser charge that is more appropriate to the offense.

5. Trial

New Jersey does not allow for jury trials in DWI cases. Your case will be heard before a Municipal Court judge. There is a “sixty day” rule that is feared by all municipal courts. The AOC, or the Administrative Office of the Courts has directed that all municipal courts try to try DWI cases within 60 days from the day of arrest. The “sixty day” rule is very often impossible to comply with. Many municipal courts relax the “sixty day” rule if there are legitimate reasons.

6. Sentencing

If a defendant is convicted then the court must impose a sentence after a conviction at trial or after a plea bargain is accepted and a plea entered. The sentences for a defendant convicted of a DWI may include fines, jail time, community service, IDRC and the installation of an ignition interlock device.

7. Appeal

Cases that are not won in the Municipal Court may be successful on appeal. However, your odds of prevailing at Municipal Court are at most one in three/four. Moreover, appeals are very expensive. There are filing fees involved, and the defendant must also pay to obtain the transcripts of the trial.

8. Post-Conviction Relief

You may challenge an old DWI conviction. It becomes necessary to check prior convictions when you are arrested for a new DWI. The penalties for a second or third DWI become enhanced. If a driver was not properly represented in the prior conviction, or if he did not give an adequate factual basis, then the defendant may make a challenge to that original court to have that DWI conviction reversed.