State v. Rogers October 25, 2016
Issues: What is the Law Division’s job when reviewing a municipal court trial court’s finding of guilt in a DWI case?
Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In this case, defendant appealed from the order of the law division “denying” his appeal of conviction in the municipal court for DUI, display of fictitious plates, and refusal of chemical breath test. At the commencement of defendant’s trial for 10 motor vehicle offenses, counsel moved for dismissal based on the delay in bringing the matter to trial, arguing that the delay violated defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. However, the trial court denied the motion, and following trial convicted defendant of seven of the 10 charges.
On appeal to the appellate division, the defendant argued, among other issues, that the law division judge did not fully review the municipal court record ‘de novo’ (anew) and arrive at its own findings of fact and conclusions law. Defendant makes this argument even though the law division must give deference to the municipal court judge’s determinations of credibility and veracity of any witness. The court ruled that the law division erred by failing to make its own findings of fact, noting that an appeal of a municipal court conviction had to be reviewed by the law division de novo. Thus, the court held that the law division did not perform its function to conduct a trial de novo on the record before the municipal court, and therefore prevented appellate review of its own determinations. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgments of the law division, and remanded for it to conduct a trial de novo on the record.