In light of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling last week that a defendant is not entitled to a jury when facing a third or subsequent charge of driving while intoxicated, State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) is proposing legislation that would make a third DWI a felony, with no jury trial or pre-trial intervention eligibility.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled 5-1 that defendant James Denelsbeck, did not have the right to a trial by jury when facing 180 days of incarceration for his third DWI offense. His request for a jury trial was previously denied by a municipal court and the ruling was affirmed by the Superior Court and the Appellate Division.
“Contrary to popular perception, there is not a universal right to trial by jury. Pursuant to the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defendant only has a right to a trial by jury if the potential sentence exceeds six months of incarceration. If you are even on par with a six month sentence, you will lose the possibility of being judged by your peers,” said Gusciora, who also serves as the municipal prosecutor in Princeton and a few other area municipalities.
“New Jersey classifies DWIs as a motor vehicle violation and not a criminal offense, which downplays the severity of someone’s decision to drive drunk and endanger themselves and innocent bystanders,” Gusciora said. “Subsequent drunk driving offenses should be treated as a premeditated violent crime considering that an individual with a previous history of driving drunk knows the potential violent dangers of their actions.”
Gusciora plans to introduce the legislation at the next General Assembly quorum scheduled for May 19.