Mandatory Sentences Must Be Custodial

Submitted by New Jersey DWI Attorney, Jeffrey Hark.

This blog very briefly discusses mandatory sentences using the recent case State v. French decided August 25, 2014. In this case the State appeals a sentence of 90 days in jail followed by 90 days in an inpatient drug rehabilitation program. The sentence is imposed for the fourth degree crime of operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension with multiple DWI convictions. This may seem odd to some lay readers who are used to the defendant appealing in criminal cases. It must be remembered that in a criminal case there are judgments, verdicts and sentences. A verdict comes from a jury, but a judgment is a finding of a judge. And the judge also imposes a sentence if the defendant is found guilty. For example if a jury finds a defendant ‘not guilty this verdict is protected by the rule of double jeopardy (not being tried twice) but if the jury found the defendant ‘guilty’ and then the judge offered a judgment of ‘not guilty due to insufficient evidence’ (essentially disagreeing with the jury) then this could be appealed. Sentences can also be appealed by the State.

For this particular crime the mandatory sentence is 180 days in jail without parole. While Title 39 does permit a judge in a third or more DWI sentencing to suspend the last half of a 180 day sentence to allow a defendant to enter a drug or alcohol inpatient rehab program, that does not apply to this case. When the Legislature does intend for sentencing alternatives to jail time they are clear in their language.

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