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.