Penalties for DWI In a New Jersey School Zone
Since the NJ Supreme Court decided State v. Reiner, NJ DWI School Zone convictions have been clarified. DWI School Zone allegations are separate statutes that must be sentenced separately as well. A prior DWI conviction does not enhance a later DWI School Zone conviction.
Separate Offense = Separate SentenceIn State v. Reiner, A-45-03, the NJ Supreme Court Justices held that N.J.S.A 39:4-50(a), DWI, and N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g), DWI in a School Zone, are separate offenses which require a prior conviction of their respective, specific statute in order to enhance a sentence on a subsequent conviction. The court went to great lengths to clarify the statutory language under both offenses which can be confusing on its face. N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g), DWI in a School Zone, or Filomena's Law, was enacted to essentially double the penalties for a DWI offense that occurs on or within 1,000 feet of a school property or crosswalk. The law was named after Filomena Coppola, a school crossing guard who was struck by a drunk driver when trying to protect children in a school crosswalk. The courts wrestled with the Legislative intent behind the NJ School Zone DWI law and ultimately ruled that such law is a separate and distinct offense from the regular driving while intoxicated violation. Accordingly, to be sentenced as a multiple offender for a DWI School Zone violation, a defendant will need a prior School Zone DWI conviction in New Jersey.
Harsher Sentence Will PrevailSo what happens when a multiple DWI offender is arrested for DWI for the first time within a school zone? The Reiner case dealt with that specific issue. Given the ambiguity in the statutes, the Supreme Court held that the defendant should get the benefit of first time offender treatment for a DWI in a School Zone conviction if they were never before convicted under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g). However, given that almost all DWI in School Zone convictions also have a conviction for a regular DWI under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a), the multiple, regular DWI offender will receive the harsher sentence for a repeat, normal DWI conviction. The lesser school zone penalties would merge into the harsher regular DWI penalties. Thomas Carroll Blauvelt, Esq. is a former NJ Municipal Prosecutor and Public Defender. He has handled thousands of NJ Municipal Court matters for 21 years. Call him 24/7 to personally discuss your NJ DWI in a School Zone matter. 1-877-676-7729.