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What a Plea Agreement Could Offer in Your New Jersey DWI Case

May 10, 2024

There is a Lot at Stake when Charged with a DWI in NJ. So Now that You can Take a Plea, Should You do It?

Need a Lawyer for DWI Plea Deal in Mount Holly NJ

The 1990 Court Rule, titled Guideline 4, disallows plea bargains regarding drunk driving cases, i.e., driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, 2024 statutory law amendments to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 allow plea bargains for DWI offenses and refusals to submit to a breathalyzer charges upon the recommendation of the prosecutor, so long as the bargain includes a six-month license suspension for driving under the influence of drugs charge

The Repeal of Guideline 4 in NJ DWI Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently reconciled contradicting mandates of Guideline 4 and statutory law by repealing Guideline 4 and adopting the amended N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 in its February 2024 Order on Rules of Court and Guideline 4. Now, DUI defendants can plea bargain with the municipal court prosecutor when appropriate without fear of prosecutors relying on a judicial directive contradictory to the newly amended law allowing plea bargains.

Foundation of Guideline 4 Disallowing Plea Bargains for DWI Charges

In the court’s explanation of its repeal of Guideline 4, it noted that the Guideline arose out of general mistrust of municipal courts in the 1970s when the ban on plea bargaining in DUI/DWI cases was initiated. By 1988, a Supreme Court committee researching and evaluating the municipal court plea bargain reinstatement agreed to return plea bargaining to the municipal court, except for DWI/DUIs (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50). This exception was contained in a court rule titled Guideline 4 and included in Rule 7:4-8. This Rule governs pre-trial procedures in municipal courts.

The Hessen Case and Its Significance

Further explaining the Guideline’s history, the Supreme Court confirmed the Rule containing Guideline 4 in State vs. Hessen, 145 N.J. 441 (1994). That case dealt with a challenge to the municipal court’s refusal to accept the defendant’s plea bargain with the prosecution in a DWI case based on Guideline 4. The defendant appealed because Guideline 4 infringed on New Jersey’s separation of powers and on the prosecution’s discretion. In other words, the defendant asserted that the judicial Rule infringed on the executive branch’s power to enforce the law.

The court in Hessen cited its supervising judicial administrative power to form and interpret judicial rules, in this case, to regulate plea bargaining in municipal courts and make judicial rules regarding the same. Citing the unanimous aim of all three branches to deter drunk driving, the court rejected the defendant’s constitutional argument.

However, citing Winberrry vs. Salisbury 5 N.J. 240 (1950), the Supreme Court noted that the Supreme Court’s judicial administrative authority does not trump legislative acts. Substantive law, the court states, establishes rights and duties, whereas procedural laws facilitate such legislative acts by establishing pleading practice rules. They should not conflict, but sometimes they do.

Amended DWI Statute Puts Plea Agreements Back on the Table

The legislative Bill S3011 extending a portion of the drunk driving statute added an amendment, the provision allowing plea bargains under the appropriate factual circumstances and upon the recommendation of the prosecutor. The amendment allows plea bargaining despite the existence of a contradictory judicial directive. The Supreme Court took the legislative language and contradiction as a direction to harmonize the will of the legislative branch with the judicial branch and change the policy regarding plea bargains in DWI cases. 

The court recognized the legislative intent to handle DWI cases more efficiently, allowing discretion in plea bargaining just as with other laws and procedures. Despite expressing a concern that the revised drunk driving statute may be unconstitutional under the separation of powers, the court withdrew Guideline 4 in the interests of continuity. 

Ensuring DWI Plea Agreement Validity in New Jersey

To date, Rule 7:6-2(d) allows plea agreements according to the Supreme Court Comment and judicial guidelines, if the municipal or county prosecutor or Attorney General prosecuted the complaint, the defendant is represented by counsel or waives the right to counsel, the victim knows about the agreement, the prosecuting attorney assures the court that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the municipal court (not an unconsented-to reduced indictable crime unknown to the prosecutor) and does not evade minimum sentence requirements. The agreement and provisions of this Rule must be on the record. 

How can a DWI Defense Attorney Help with Plea Bargaining my DWI Charge in NJ?

Now, a defendant may have more opportunity to negotiate a plea bargain, resulting in reduced charges or sentencing, in the right circumstances. And since the Guideline 4 withdrawal in February, DWI/DUI attorneys can take advantage of a new, more flexible case management of drunk driving and refusal cases. Instead of the strict one-size-fits-all approach, the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge can look at the facts of each case to determine what punishment best fits the offense, just like in most other crimes and offenses.

With plea bargaining available, a DWI defense attorney at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay can help you negotiate a better resolution to your case, perhaps foregoing license suspension, shorter periods of driving with an ignition interlock device, or lower fines. Our DUI lawyers may save you jail time through a plea bargain and protect your license and your wallet in the process.

When you sit down with a drunk driving defense attorney at our Evesham, NJ office for the first time, ask us whether your case may be eligible for a favorable plea bargain and how we can assist with convincing the prosecution to agree to one with favorable terms for you. We can answer all of your questions and explain how plea-bargaining works as a viable alternative to going to trial. 

Talk to our Mount Holly Lawyers about Your DWI Plea Options and Advantages

Do not guess what will happen to you after a drunk driving arrest or refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. Talk to a tested and trusted New Jersey DWI defense attorney at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay about your case, concerns, and desired outcome. After learning about the details of your case, we can advise you further about the best course of action, and after reviewing all of the discovery (evidence) in your DWI arrest and the processes that followed, we can talk you through the considerations for whether you should plea bargain or take the case to trial. We may feel the evidence against you is weak and should be litigated in municipal court, or we may view a downgraded charge to something like reckless driving as the best way to handle the charges against you. Our firm serves clients with DUI defense needs throughout Burlington County, such as Pemberton, Lumberton, Delran, Mount Laurel, Evesham Township, Riverside, Mount Holly, and Bordentown. Get in contact with us today for a free consultation.

Contact Us

Our phones are answered 24 hours a day. We are available weekdays during business hours. We also meet with clients on evenings and weekends by request. We have four office locations conveniently located in Jersey City, Edison, Middletown, Cranford, Burlington, and Hamilton. All major credit cards are accepted.

Burlington Office

525 Highway 73,
Suite 104, Marlton,
New Jersey 08053
Phone: 609-850-8284
By Appointment Only

Hamilton Office

100 Horizon Center
Boulevard, Hamilton,
New Jersey, 08691
By Appointment Only

Point Pleasant Office

3828 River Road,
Suite A, Point Pleasant,
New Jersey 08742
By Appointment Only

Middletown Office

180 Kings Highway,
Middletown Township,
New Jersey 07748
By Appointment Only