Your right to a speedy trial under New Jersey’s speedy trial case law.
I have been charged with a DWI and the question is how fast is the state required to provide discovery and or present the case to the municipal court judge for trial?
Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
The New Jersey appellate division reached this decision in October 12, 2018 case of State v Quinn. In this case the defendant was charged with a DWI on December 25, 2013 after the police came to the scene of a one car accident with the defendant standing next to his vehicle. Although the police did not observe the defendant driving, he did admit to the police officer at the scene to operating the vehicle, swerving off the road, and crashing into a utility pole. The defendant further admitted he was the driver, loosing control and drinking two drinks immediately prior to getting into the vehicle from a local restaurant.
Although the tickets were dated December 24, 2013, the municipal prosecutor failed to provide a complete discovery package for over one year including the police officer’s dashboard video. In addition to the state’s failed to produce discovery on numerous occasions, the defendant also asked for an adjournment in order to file post conviction relief applications and other municipalities to avoid being convicted of a third offense in this Municipal court.
The defense also requested numerous adjournments in order to have his expert review the discovery and be available to testify. A trial finally commenced on May 11, 2016, approximately; two years after the original charge. After the defendant was found guilty of DWI and refusal he was sentenced to a 10 year license suspension, six months in the county jail, and 2 year ignition interlock requirement once his license is reinstated.
The defendant appealed arguing that the judge did not apply the correct evidentiary threshold for the refusal statute and the defendant was denied his speedy trial rights. The appellate court first noted that it would not overturn the trial judges decision, that being the municipal court, unless the trial judge made an “abuse of discretion“ that was so erroneous that no reasonable analysis could support that trial judges decision. In this case the appellate court found no abuse of discretion and no violation of defendant’s speedy trial rights.
The court applied the law as stated in State v. Townsend, New Jersey Supreme Court 2006 decision 186 N.J. 473 (2006) which outlined a four-part balancing test: 1. the length of the way, 2. the reason for delay, 3. Whether and when did the defendant asserted his speedy trial right, and 4. any prejudice the defendant experienced as a result of the delay.
The appellate court went on to state that no one factor controls the court’s decision and the length of any delay is not the sole factor weighing on the courts decision. In one case a one-year delay was not objectionable while in another case a two month delay was significantly objectionable.
In addition the court determined that the defendant did not assert his “speedy trial rights” until more than a year after the case commenced. As a result, he could not come to court and say he was ready to proceed when he did not demand a speedy trial years earlier. In this case the court found no violation a speedy trial right because the defendant was addressing his post conviction relief claims and other municipalities and his experts were not ready and available to testify in a timely manner.
The court affirmed the DWI conviction however remanded the refusal conviction because it found the law division judge did not apply the appropriate evidentiary standard for refusal. The law division applied a “preponderance of the evidence standard” as opposed to the criminal burden of proof, “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The key in this part of the court’s decision in this case was that defendant produced a neurologist who testified his behavior, symptoms, and conduct caught on video and testified by the police officer with regards to the field sobriety test may have been affected by the trauma he suffered in the one car accident when the vehicle struck the light post. The neurologist testified his behavior was consistent with a concussion which could have caused confusion and comprehension concerns affecting his ability to perceive and understand the directions at the police department with regards to requiring the defendant to perform the Alcotest as per the state mandated instructions.
The Appellate Division returned the case back to the law division for a trial on the papers and order that court to apply the correct evidentiary standard.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.