The New Jersey Supreme Court debated recently over whether people charged with driving while intoxicated should be entitled to a trial by jury. They eventually decided to uphold the current system, which means that DWIs will not be considered criminal offenses even when drunk drivers are looking at hefty fines and months in jail.
The court maintained that a trial by jury was unnecessary since the punishments for repeat DWI offenders were not really serious enough to warrant a trial. However, court officials added that fees, fines and other penalties associated with drunk driving have reached the limit for non-criminal offenses.
If New Jersey decides to increase fine amounts or jail time, the Supreme Court will likely be forced to reconsider the criminal status of driving while intoxicated.
Should New Jersey DWI Laws Be Changed?
Currently, New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that don’t permit drunk drivers a jury trial for their first DWI offense. New Jersey is the only state in the country that doesn’t even hold a jury trial for a fourth-time offender, like James R. Denelsbeck.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision came after Denelsbeck requested a trial by jury, arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated by the punishments that came with his fourth DWI conviction. Denelsbeck, after running a red light while drunk, was sentenced to 180 days in jail, received a 10-year driver’s license suspension, will be required to use an interlock device for two years after his license is reinstated and was fined more than $1000.
Despite backing from the New Jersey State Bar and the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Denelsbeck’s request was thrown out. Supreme Court Judge Mary Cuff says the decision to deny jury trials to DWI offenders is in the best interest of New Jersey’s overall plan to make the legal system more efficient by promoting non-jury trials.
Should the penalties be increased? Do you think that driving while intoxicated should be a criminal offense? Sound off in the comment section below or let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter.