Friday, June 17, 2011

DWI Appeal - NJ Court Bars Suspension as Untimely

In Galeano v. new Jersey, Not Reported in A.3d, 2011 WL 2301104 (N.J.Super.A.D.), the New Jersey licensed defendant was arrested and convicted of DUI in Fliorida in 2003. The Florida court entered a supplemental order dated July 2, 2004, which stated that his probation had been successfully terminated. In July 2010, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission received a report of conviction from Florida pursuant to the Interstate Driver License Compact. The Compact provides, among other things, that “[t]he licensing authority of a party State shall report each conviction of a person from another party State occurring within its jurisdiction to the licensing authority of the home State of the licensee.” The Commission issued a notice dated July 19, 2010, informing Galeano that his driver's license would be suspended for 210 days, beginning August 13, 2010, as a result of an alcohol-related violation that occurred in Florida on August 19, 2003.

On appeal, the Court reversed the suspension, finding that it was untimely:

The Compact does not specify the time in which a party State must report a conviction to the home State of a licensed driver. However, when a contract does not specify the time in which action must be taken, “the law infers that the contract will be performed within a reasonable time.” In re Estate of Yates, 368 N.J.Super. 226, 236 (App.Div.2004). “What constitutes a ‘reasonable time’ is usually an implication of fact, and not of law, derivable from the language used by the parties considered in the context of the subject matter and the attendant circumstances, in aid of the apparent intention.” Ibid. (quoting Borough of West Caldwell v. Borough of Caldwell, 26 N.J. 9, 28 (1958)).

Reporting of a conviction of the motor vehicle laws to a licensee's home state within a reasonable time is necessary in order to achieve the purposes set out in the Compact, one of which is to “[p]romote compliance” with laws governing the operation of motor vehicles. N.J.S.A. 39:5D–1(b)(1). A driver's conviction of a motor vehicle offense indicates that the driver may pose some danger to other drivers or the public generally. N.J.S.A. 39:5D–1(a)(2). Therefore, the Compact envisions that such a conviction would be reported to the driver's home State within a reasonable time so that the home State may impose its penalties as a result of that conviction within a reasonable time thereafter.

We are convinced that the Compact does not authorize New Jersey to suspend Galeano's license based on his 2003 Florida DUI conviction because Florida did not report the conviction within a reasonable time. We recognize that the delay here is not attributable to the Commission. Nevertheless, the Commission suspended Galeano's license pursuant to the Compact, and its authority to do so is dependent upon Florida's reporting of the out-of-state conviction within a reasonable time, which did not occur here.

Moreover, the suspension of Galeano's license under these circumstances violates his right to fundamental fairness and due process. License suspension proceedings “affect drivers in a serious way” because they “often threaten [ ]” a driver's ability “to earn a livelihood[.]” In re Arndt, 67 N.J. 432, 436 (1975). Consequently, such proceedings “must meet those incidents of fairness” that underlie the constitutional right to due process. Ibid.

Editor's Note: Many states, in an effort to obtain outstanding fines and monies uncollected on drunk driving cases and bond forfeitures, are uploading DUI/DWI convictions on cases going back to the 1970's (Illinois is one example)The doctrine of laches is sometimes available to fight against these late notices. However, the above case would not be a good laches case, since New Jersey itself acted promptly. If anything the laches would only apply to the reporting party, and such litigation is difficult and many states have statutorily immunized themselves from laches defenses.

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