A New Jersey appellate court recently expanded the powers of judges to punish drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated. The court ruled that prior convictions for violations of New Jersey’s implied consent law, Refusal under 39:4-50.2, must now be counted as prior DWI convictions during sentencing for a DWI for a subsequent offense.
The ruling came in State v. Ciancaglini, a case in which the state of New Jersey was appealing Eileen Ciancaglini’s sentence in connection with a new violation and conviction. She had been convicted of a DWI in 1979 and again in 2008. She had also been convicted of refusing an alcotest in 2006.
First Conviction and Appeal
Ciancaglini pled guilty in the 2008 case and was sentenced as a three-time offender. She appealed the decision to New Jersey Superior Court.
The Superior Court re-sentenced her as a first-time DWI offender; a conviction carrying a jail sentence of 30 days. By law, the court didn’t consider her prior DWI conviction because it had occurred 10 years or more before the current conviction.
Precedent and State Appeal
The court relied on precedent from a 1993 case, State v. Di Somma, 262 NJ SUPER 375 (App. Div. 1993), which had established that a prior conviction for refusing a chemical blood alcohol test such as the breathalyzer did not count as a prior DWI conviction for sentencing purposes.
After Ms. Ciancaglini’s 30-day sentence had been served, the state appealed to the Appellate Court, which overturned the Superior Court. The appeals court decided that prior refusal convictions do count as prior DWI convictions contrary to Di Somma, Id. at 375.
Ms. Ciancaglini was sentenced again, this time as a three-time DWI offender: a conviction carrying a sentence of mandatory six months in jail under State v. Luthe, 386 NJ SUPER 512 (App. Div. 2006).
You might wonder why the court didn’t consider her a two-time offender. It was because the law requires a judge to refuse to consider the most recent DWI conviction if it was at least 10 years before the current conviction. For Ciancaglini, the most recent DWI conviction was now her 2006 refusal conviction.
Implications of This Ruling
The implications of the decision in this are clear: If a driver has been convicted in the past of refusing a blood-alcohol or breath test, that conviction will count as a DWI/DUI conviction in sentencing for any future DWIs at present time. Many courts are conflicted in this area, as Ciancaglini did not specifically overturn Di Somma and this matter is now under review by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
To understand how this change can affect you and your DWI case, contact a New Jersey DWI attorney who can examine your record, explain your options and work to protect your driving privileges and freedom.