The Real Reason DWI in a School Zone Charges are so Problematic

I’ve represented many people charged with DWI in a school zone under NJSA 39: 4 – 50.14. This charge alone carries significant penalties including at least a year loss of license. Of course there are the financial burdens associated with it. But usually DWI in a school zone is charged in conjunction with regular DWI. These are two separate offenses. Accordingly, they carry two separate sentences if found guilty. If convicted these sentences will run consecutively. Consecutively means one after another.

The example I give is one that occurs frequently. Just last week I was representing an individual charged with DWI and DWI in a school zone in a Somerset County municipality. The facts of the case were actually pretty good for the defense. It was DWI based upon alleged drug intoxication. The Alcotest was not a factor since the client had blown zeros. Therefore, the State sought to utilize a Drug Recognition Expert or DRE to make its case. The results of the DRE examination according to the reports were not necessarily conclusive, but with certain additions to the report that could be brought out during testimony the examination may have proven to be conclusive and could lead to a conviction.

Under normal circumstances when only charged with DWI and not DWI in a school zone, this case would be one that I would have absolutely recommended go to trial. There are those instances where after multiple discussions with the prosecutor, the prosecutor will agree to recommend a dismissal of the DWI charges based upon the facts and circumstances set forth by your attorney. This obviously is the ideal situation. But the reality is that does not happen very often. If you have good facts and you’re not offered what you feel to be a fair resolution your recourse is to go to trial.

But when charged with DWI and DWI in a school zone, even good facts do not always warrant going to trial. The reason being is that as part of plea negotiations the prosecutor will usually agreed to dismiss the school zone charge in exchange for a plea to the underlying DWI. This resolution automatically cuts out a potential extra year of suspension. For most people, the threat of going to trial and losing your license for potentially two years is a very daunting proposition.

However, when the facts are in your favor and you truly believe that you’ve been unjustly accused, in my opinion there’s no choice but to go to trial. Even when you’re unsure about your guilt or innocence the the discovery and police reports may reveal significant inconsistencies with the investigation that warrant not accepting any sort of resolution short of dismissal.

There are other issues as well when charged with DWI in the school zone. Many of these issues revolve around discoverable documents such as school zone maps and minutes from Council meetings passing required resolutions to enact school zone maps. One of the most important things that I do during the discovery process (before trial) is make sure that (from a procedural standpoint) the state will be able to prove the school Zone was properly enacted. Challenging this has led to many successful dismissals of school zone offenses prior to trial, thus giving my client the ability to go to trial on just the underlying DWI. This greatly reduces your exposure.


Charged with Refusal? The Ticket may be Incorrect

I’ve represented many clients charged with Refusal to Submit to a Chemical Breath Test. This ticket is usually accompanied by a DWI charge as well. Refusal charges are typically difficult to beat. I feel that I have better success than most overcoming a refusal charge. In most cases, the penalty one faces for refusal can far exceed the penalty for a DWI charge when it come to loss of license.

Over recent years there have been several appellate division cases regarding the procedural aspects of refusal. Most of those have not gone well for the defendants involved or the lawyer who filed it.

However, I have had recent success arguing a new procedural issue that has got some traction and has even resulted in some police departments changing the way they issue refusal violations.

I don’t want to necessarily go to much into the defense, but it is a simple and easy to understand concept which is great for the Municipal Court System. The argument can be summed up in a two or three page brief. The timing of the argument is the most important in my opinion.

If you or anyone you know is facing a refusal charge, it makes sense to see if there is standing to make this argument. I’ll know within 30 second of a consultation whether is can be done.

Improper Turn Law New Jersey

Under New Jersey law, the following may constitute a “turn:”
A turn at an intersection
An entry into a driveway or private roadway
A move to the right or left upon a roadway
A deviation from a direct course
A lane change

As a basic regulation for how and in what direction a vehicle must turn, the Motor Vehicle Code enforces that all vehicles turning right must remain close to the right-hand side of the roadway both while approaching a turn and while taking the turning.  The same must also apply for vehicles turning left.

A turn signal must be activated at a continuous rate during, at minimum, the last 100-feet before turning.  There are three key elements of a turn signal offense: a turn, failure to give an appropriate signal, and the presence of other traffic that may be affected by the turn.

The Supreme Court ruled in State v. Williamson (1994), that a signal is only necessary when there is a likely risk of affecting nearby traffic.  This means that a signal is mandatory only if your anticipated movement has the potential, or is “in some degree likely,” to affect another vehicle.  The Williamson case also ruled that a signal should not be used merely as a means of accident avoidance, as motorists driving even within the remote vicinity may be affected by the signaling driver’s movements.  When ruling on the legality of a police vehicle halting a non-signaling vehicle, the court decided that the state need not demonstrate that any other traffic in the area was affected, indicating that the police vehicle itself can qualify as such “affected” traffic.

Failing to signal, either before a turn or before a stop sudden decrease in speed in the state of New Jersey will result in a possible penalty of two motor vehicle points against your driver’s license.

A U-Turn involves a driver turning a vehicle around as a means to proceed in the opposite direction.  U-turns are prohibited in the following situations:
When driving upon a curve
When approaching the nearest crest of a grade
Upon any place on a highway where the view from the vehicle is obstructed within a distance of 500 feet in either direction
Upon a highway that is conspicuously marked with signs stating “no U-turn”**

In order to be punishable by law, an illegally taken U-Turn is not required to be a “true,” 180-degree turn.  In State v. Smith, for instance, the defendant was found guilty of taking an illegal U-Turn after turning left into a driveway on the opposite side of the road before backing out and continuing in the opposite direction.  An improper U-Turn may result in a penalty of up to three points against your driver’s license.

Conversely, Improper Backing or Turning, wherein a vehicle backs or turns onto a street, in a maneuver that interferes with other vehicles on the road, results in a penalty of up to two points against your driver’s license.

Using a Confidential Informant to Arrest a Suspect


I’m not the Guy you Want.

Many of the drug cases that I handle involve the Police using a confidential informant (or CI) as part of the investigation. A confidential informant is typically an individual who has been arrested for a separate crime and in exchange for favorable treatment, agrees to give information, participate in the investigation, and in many instances, be the key player in the crime that leads to your arrest.

A typical fact pattern is as follows:

Johnny gets caught with an ounce of pot. The police say to him “We will help you out if you help us out. Who do you know that sells drugs.” Johnny tells them and then agrees to go and buy drugs from that person. He does so on several occasions. This is called a controlled buy. After several controlled buys, the police make an application for a warrant to search the suspect’s home. They get that warrant based on the information that the CI provides and the successful controlled buys.

The home is searched and drugs are found. The suspect is charged with drug distribution.

The identity of the confidential informant is rarely revealed. In fact, the law is very protective of the identity of a CI and only requires that this identity by exposed under certain circumstances. And even then, the law states that the CI’s testimony if ordered can only be required at trial under most circumstances.

There are exceptions, as stated, to the general rule that the identity remains secret. For example, in my example above, if we change the facts slightly to say that the suspect was arrested because we arranged for the CI to buy a gun from him, and we arrested him on the spot. This means that the CI was directly involved in the crime that led to the arrest. This is different than being involved in the development of probable cause for arrest.

Another exception is when the identity of the CI is revealed by the state. This doesn’t mean that you know who he is. This means that the State screwed up an inadvertently revealed it. For example, if the name appeared in a police report. Just because you may know who it is, does not mean that the State disclosed it.

There are other exceptions as well. I have filed many motions to disclose the identity of a CI. Not all have been successful, but in the cases where it has been, it frequently results in a dismissal or significant downgrade. The State does not like to reveal them, especially if they are good at what they do.

If you have been arrested and suspect that a CI was used by the Police during the investigation, it would benefit you you get as much information as you can about it. If the chips fall the right way, it could result in the dismissal of your case or other very good outcomes.


Will my Charge Appear on My Criminal Record?

This is always one of the first questions people have and rightfully so. Having a conviction appear on your criminal history can create huge issues for employment, travel, and immigration (just to name a few).

The answer will depend on the charge and whether or not you are convicted. Let’s walk through it.

In New Jersey, there are motor vehicle offenses under Title 39, Disorderly Persons Offenses under Title 2C and indicatable offenses under Title 2C. There are also Municipal Ordinance Offenses that are enacted by each municipality/city. Ordinance violations are not under the State code (not Title 39 or Title 2C).

Title 39 offenses appear on your driving record/abstract. Not on your criminal record. This includes DWI and Possession of CDS in a Motor Vehicle. You can’t remove items from your driving record. They stay forever. This is different than criminal.

Title 2C convictions appear on your criminal record or CCH. A charge or being charged is not the same as being convicted. Only convictions appear on a CCH (some refer to it as a RAP sheet). If you are not convicted, meaning you were not found guilty or pleaded guilty, then you don’t have a record, but there are some exceptions.

Pre-trial intervention and Conditional Discharge programs do not result in conviction. Nonetheless, you will have a record that your completed the program. You can remove this record through a process called expungement six months after you complete the program.

Additionally, anytime you are arrested or charged under Title 2C, there is a record of that charge, even if it is subsequently dismissed. However, you can expunge a record of the arrest/charge immediately upon dismissal.

Municipal Ordinances, although low level violations, may still appear on your record. Maybe you were issued one of these when you and your friends rented that shore house and the party got a little out of hand. You can expunge these too.

There is a waiting period for expungement. You must wait five year to expunge a disorderly persons offense, 5-10 years for an indictable, and 2 years for an ordinance. The clock does not start to run until the fines are paid, the probation is completed or the jail time has been served (whichever date is latest)

It is clear that the information highway opens our closets up like never before. In this day and age you should assume that any trouble you have or had will follow you and be seen by the outside world.

If you find yourself in a situation, big or small, it is smart to figure out how it may affect you in the future by seeking legal counsel.

Arrested in Belmar New Jersey, You may want to Consider Hiring a Lawyer


If you have been arrested in Belmar, there is a good chance you have been charged with one of the following:

This list is not exhaustive, but during the many years that I have been representing people charged with offenses in Belmar and other shore towns, it is clear that these are the most common.

Most of my clients I have represented in this capacity are charged with a crime or DWI for the first time and are just realizing that the one night could impact them for the rest of their lives.

It is important to realize that a conviction for any of the above-listed offenses will result in a criminal record that will remain there for at least five years.

If you are a teacher, your employer will be notified that your name has been entered into the State database and you will receive a notice. You could potentially lose your job.

If you are charged with DWI you could lose your license for up to a year for a first offense, two years for a second, and ten years for a third. A third offense carries a mandatory 6 month jail sentence.

The point is this…. you have to give yourself a chance to succeed and hiring a lawyer that not only has experience, but experience in that court is important. I have extensive experience appearing in Monmouth and Ocean County municipal courts and a high success rate.

A free consultation will quickly and comfortably give you the information you need to make good decisions going forward.

If you are facing an offense of any kind in Belmar, don’t compound the situation. Take a deep breath and a little time to educate yourself on your case and make a good decision when it comes time to hire representation.

Governor Conditionally Vetoes Bill Changing DWI Sentencing

The Governor returned a bill to the Senate which would have drastically changed DWI sentencing in New Jersey if passed. The Bill called for, inter alia, the imposition of an ignition interlock system in lieu of license suspension for first conviction for DWI.

The Bill contained provisions that called for a ten-day suspension to show compliance with the installation of the interlock. Once the device was installed, the license would be reinstated. The sentencing judge would then have discretion (to some extent) to impose the interlock for a longer or shorter period of time depending on the circumstances.

The Bill was returned to the Senate with a suggestion from the Governor….How about we impose both a license suspension and an ignition interlock?

The Governor cited statistics that indicate that New Jersey is amongst the nations best when it comes to DWI related fatalities and enforcement, but still in need of improvement.

The current law mandates license suspension, but the ignition interlock is only required for first offense with a B.A.C. of .15 and above, or for a second and third offense.

It is clear to me that the new law would have been better for those facing DWI charges. The prospect of losing your license in New Jersey is pretty daunting. A change in the law that would allow you to  keep it certainly seems like a good thing for those facing the problem.

But for now, things remain the same. If you have any questions regarding this decision or DWI charges in general, I can be reached 24 hours.