Operating a Motor Vehicle Following a DWI Conviction: State v. Chauhan, A-2583-12T4

On July 16, 2013 the Appellate Division reversed an order granting defendant, Vijay Chauhan, entry into the Atlantic County Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program. On November 18, 2011, the Egg Harbor Township police stopped the defendant’s vehicle after a random license plate inquiry revealed a possible hit. When the vehicle stopped, the male driver jumped into the back seat of the car and the front seat passenger moved to the driver’s seat. The driver, Chauhan, had a suspended license following a DWI conviction. On May 16, 2012, the defendant was indicted for fourth-degree operating a motor vehicle while his driver’s license was suspended based on a second violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 (DWI), N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b). On June 4, 2012, the defendant pled guilty and applied for PTI. The Prosecutor’s Office rejected the application pursuant to the factors in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12(e) and the defendant filed a motion appealing the rejection.

Over the objection of the State, the trial court granted PTI on February 4, 2013 to which the State appealed to the Appellate Division. The prosecutor’s rejection of a PTI application is given “enhanced deference.” See State v. DeMarco, 107 N.J. 562, 566 (1987). A prosecutor’s refusal can only be reversed when there is clear abuse of discretion by the prosecutor, not only that the refusal is harsh. To overcome a prosecutor’s refusal the defendant must show: 1) rejection was not premised on relevant factors, 2) rejection was based upon irrelevant factors, or 3) a clear error in judgment. See State v. Bender, 80 N.J. 84 (1979). In rejecting the defendant’s application for PTI, the prosecution took into account that the defendant was employed, college educated and remorseful but did not out-weigh that defendant received prior sanctions. The prosecution determined the defendant needed greater deterrence.

The Appellate Division reverses the granting of PTI, because when the trial court granted PTI it was substituting its own judgment for that of the prosecutor which properly weighed the defendant’s application for PTI. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26, there is a need for prosecution and 180 days mandatory incarceration because of recidivist DWI offenders who drive with a suspended license are not adequately being deterred. As public awareness and outrage against alcohol related driving accidents continues to bubble, the Legislature will respond with harsher deterrents if need be and prosecutors are perfectly within their discretion to deny PTI.

Posted by New Jersey criminal defense attorney, Jeffrey Hark.

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