Post-Conviction Relief Procedure in NJ DUI Cases
Can You Get Post-Conviction Relief (PCR) for Driving under the Influence in New Jersey?
Post-conviction relief (PCR) for a DWI conviction is one way to lessen a DWI sentence or escape a DWI conviction. New Jersey Rule 7:10-2 permits defendants to apply for relief from a DUI or DWI refusal conviction on the grounds that the DWI or refusal proceedings or sentence were flawed or unconstitutional. The request for PCR aims to reduce or remove the consequences of a DWI/DUI or refusal conviction that may have occurred unfairly or illegally.
Main Types of Post-Conviction Relief Requests in NJ
An applicant may ask a court to reverse a DWI guilty plea. Alternatively, they may request a court to prevent a prior DWI conviction from enhancing a sentence to a subsequent DWI or sentence for driving on a revoked license resulting from a DWI or DUI. Prior DWI convictions weigh heavily in the sentencing for a subsequent DWI. For example, a third DWI may result in a six-month jail sentence, but a second DWI may only mean 90 days. So, removing one DWI conviction from counting against them, a defendant can significantly reduce their sentence for a third DWI conviction. In sum, PCR enables a DWI defendant to avoid a conviction or lessen potential fines, jail time, community service, license suspension, or other penalties for a DWI.
Enhanced sentences also apply to driving on a suspended license due to a DWI and refusal to take a breathalyzer test. A refusal often can result in harsher sentences than DWI and DUI sentences. A successful PCR petition may allow a defendant to remove or vacate the DWI that is the basis for the suspended license or refusal. As such, PCR can be useful for avoiding the worst possible financial and other consequences of a DWI, DUI, refusal, or license revocation.
Potential Grounds for Post-Conviction Relief for DWI in NJ
The possible grounds for PCR are errors by a judge, prosecutor, or defense in the DWI proceedings. Thus, when a prosecutor withholds evidence during the DWI trial, the defendant may request PCR post-conviction. Likewise, a defective waiver of counsel, failure of a judge to inform the defendant of the right to counsel, an excessive sentence, a guilty plea based on insufficient facts, or ineffective or absent legal representation may support a written PCR request.
Improper jurisdiction is another basis for PCR. When the wrong court convicts an individual for a DWI, the conviction fails for lack of jurisdiction. That means a court cannot act for or against an individual because it has no authority over a case’s person or subject matter. Faulty jurisdiction may be due to inadequate notice, or the matter needs to be in the proper court. Missing or improper court documents notifying the defendant to appear in court or the convicting municipal court not being the appropriate court to determine the matter are examples of jurisdictional grounds for PCR.
How Long do You Have to File a PCR Petition for DUI in New Jersey?
An individual seeking PCR must file a petition to erase a DUI/DWI conviction within five years of the conviction or sentence. However, a driver alleging the sentence is unlawful may file their petition anytime. So, when a judge’s DWI or DUI sentence exceeds the legal sentencing guidelines applicable to a defendant, the sentence may be illegal. Also, a defendant who can show that their failure to file a PCR petition within the five-year deadline was excusable neglect may apply the five-year limitation. Excusable neglect may occur when an unrepresented defendant is unaware of their right to PCR or that their rights were violated.
Venue for Post-Conviction Relief Applications in NJ
Since a DWI is a traffic offense handled in municipal court and considered quasi-criminal, the PCR application is also a municipal court proceeding since a defendant may have to petition the court that previously convicted and sentenced the defendant. The equivalent of such post-conviction relief in the criminal arena is habeas corpus, which seeks a prisoner’s release from illegal imprisonment.
Critical Components of a Successful PCR Petition
An individual petitioning the municipal court where the DWI conviction took place must detail the reasons for the relief request, including the essential facts of the original conviction and sentence, any pending or determined appeals, or previous PCR applications. An application should include details about former representation, if any, including facts that support ineffective counsel and current incarceration status. A detailed and convincing application is crucial for success.
The burden of proof or sufficiency of the evidence to convince a judge to grant relief is a preponderance of the credible evidence. That means a judge must believe that the evidence of wrongful conduct or illegality leading to the prior conviction is more likely than not true. Credible evidence is trustworthy or reliable evidence. However, convincing a judge that a previous conviction should be thrown out is challenging.
Considering the time limitation and burden of proof, a petitioner can be overwhelmed by the PCR process without the help of a DWI attorney experienced in PCR applications. In addition, a defendant who appeared without counsel in the prior DWI conviction proceedings is more likely to have overlooked constitutional and other defenses to the charges. They are more likely to have been disadvantaged by an overly aggressive prosecutor. Otherwise, a represented defendant in a prior DWI may have more challenges to prove relief is necessary.
What Happens if a PCR Request is Granted in New Jersey?
If successful, the judge can order that the DUI cannot be considered in a subsequent DWI sentencing. That means a defendant saves time, money, and collateral damages (job loss, bankruptcy, and other consequences) from a lengthy jail term, driving restriction, or fine.
Let our Seasoned DWI Lawyers Help You Seek PCR in New Jersey
If you have been convicted of a DWI in New Jersey, our drunk driving defense attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm know that compelling evidence more likely proves the illegality or wrongfulness of a prior conviction. Preparing a sufficiently persuasive application takes knowledge and expertise. A seasoned DUI lawyer at our New Jersey law firm who has successfully obtained post-conviction relief for clients with drinking and driving and driving under the influence of drugs cases is fully prepared to assist with your case to put you in the best possible position. We understand that most PCR requests are an uphill battle without compelling evidence of a defendant’s constitutional rights infringement, a lack of proper jurisdiction, or other acceptable reasons for the relief, and we leave no stone unturned when assembling the most compelling post-conviction relief application on your behalf.
Employing a DWI defense attorney is wise when you seek relief from an unjust DWI conviction or sentence, especially when the outcome can literally change your life for the better, or worse. Contact our DUI lawyers to discuss your potential post-conviction relief petition and find out more about how we can help. You can reach us 24/7 online or by phone at (201)-556-1570 for a free case review.