Monday, January 24, 2011

DUI Appeal of the Day (DAD) - Prior Refusals Do Not Qualify as a 'Prior' for DWIs

This case comes to DAD's attention thanks to New Jersey member Steven Hernandez. In State of New Jersey v. Ciancaglini, --- A.3d ----, 2011 WL 148910 (N.J.), the defendant was sentenced as a third-timer, based upon a prior conviction for refusing a breath test. The Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously held that a prior refusal was not a prior conviction for sentencing purposes. The case itself was based upon a statutory interpretation of the language in the DWI statute referring to prior 'violations'. In New Jersey, the DWI statute and the Refusal statute are separate and distinct from each other. Employing the "well-established principle that penal statutes must be strictly construed", the court found that the term 'violations' was too vague to include prior refusals, as opposed to prior DWIs only. Said the Court:

"Moreover, while the record was not fully developed as to whether defendant's 2006 refusal conviction was incident to an acquittal of DWI, it cannot be reasonably suggested that someone convicted of refusal when found not guilty of DWI can be treated as if he or she were convicted of the DWI offense. If the Legislature wanted to treat a refusal conviction as an enhancer for DWI, even after an acquittal of DWI, it would have had to do so in clearer language."

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