The New Jersey Appellate Division Ruled that a DWI Conviction May Enhance a Refusal Sentence, But a Prior Refusal Conviction May Not Enhance a Later DWI Sentence
Prior DWI Conviction Still Enhances New Jersey Refusal Sentencing
On February 19, 2014, the NJ Appellate Division ruled that prior DWI convictions may enhance sentencing when a defendant is found guilty for a later Refusal to Submit to Alcotest offense. The argument before the appeals court was in essence, why should a prior DWI conviction count against a later Refusal conviction if the opposite is not true when the Refusal conviction pre-dates the DWI conviction? Unfortunately the appeals panel did not buy the argument. In State v. Ciancaglini, 204 N.J. 597 (2011), it was held that a prior refusal conviction may not be used to enhance sentencing for a subsequent DWI. In the most recent case, State v. Tighe, the appeals court was bound by In re Bergwall, 85 N.J. 382 (1981). In Bergwall, the Supreme Court held that prior DWI violators should counted as repeat offenders when they are sentenced for a later New Jersey refusal conviction. The NJ refusal statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a, also permits such repeat offender sentencing enhancement.
"Inverse Ciancaglini" Arguments Falls Short - Why the Difference?
So the question begged is why does a prior NJ DWI conviction enhance a Refusal sentence when a prior Refusal conviction does not enhance a later New Jersey DWI sentence? It seems that the court's logic is that a Refusal has a lower threshold to prove and is quasi-civil in nature. Hence, why use a quasi-civil, lesser burden of proof statute to enhance a quasi-criminal, higher burden of proof statute at a later date. This argument is not fully litigated as the Tighe matter appears headed to the NJ Supreme Court for further review.
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