New Jersey Driver Fails on Appeal of Drunken Driving Conviction on Jurisdictional Grounds

No driver who lives or works in the Garden State needs to be told that being charged with a DWI offense can lead to harsh penalties if one is convicted for drunk driving. With all the hoopla over enhanced enforcement, saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints, one would have to be living under a rock for the past couple decades to understand that police and the courts are not too sympathetic toward motorists caught driving drunk.

This only goes to show that with the potential fines and surcharges, not to mention other penalties, there is no reason not to contact a qualified DWI defense attorney following a drunken driving arrest. As New Jersey DUI-DWI defense lawyers, I and my staff are trained to represent individuals accused of driving while intoxicated by beer or hard liquor, prescription medications or illegal drugs (drug DUI).

It goes without saying that motorists who face severe penalties — such as mandatory license suspension and $4,000 or more in monetary penalties and insurance surcharges, among others — will usually want to fight the charges. And while not all DWI cases end well, there is always the appeals process, which is usually available to defendants who wish to contest a lower court ruling.

While an appeal of a DWI conviction can sometimes work in the defendant’s behalf, there must be good grounds to make the effort fruitful. However, a recent decision handed down from the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court was not what Edward Sylvia, Jr., would have hoped for at the outset of his appeals hearing (State v. Sylvia) early this year.

According to court records, Mr. Sylvia had lost his drunken driving case in municipal court back in Woodbury Heights,.Gloucester County, when the prosecution apparently proved that the defendant was guilty of DWI, as well as breath test refusal. As a result of that initial trial, Mr. Sylvia was fined $1000 fine, plus nearly $400 in miscellaneous penalties, assessments and court costs.

The defendant was also sentenced to 180 days in jail and his license was suspended for ten years. And that was only for the DWI; the penalties the refusal charge included a seven-month concurrent license suspension, 48 hours in New Jersey’s Intoxicated Driver Resource Center IDRC), plus more than $400 in additional fines and court costs.

Following the guilty verdict, Mr. Sylvia appealed the decision on the grounds that the prosecution in the original case against him failed to establish during the court trial that the actual traffic violations occurred within the territorial jurisdiction of Woodbury Heights’ Municipal Court. Unfortunately, this gambit did not play out in the appellant’s favor.

According to court records, the patrolman who arrested Mr. Sylvia testified that he signed the summonses, which indicated the intersection at which he initially observed the defendant’s vehicle was Rte 45 and Elm Ave. Sylvia’s drunk driving defense lawyer did not challenge the jurisdiction of Woodbury Heights’ municipal court, nor did he raise any questions regarding the court’s jurisdiction on cross-examination, or apparently anytime during the DWI case.

Although the traffic stop was reportedly made in the township of West Deptford on southbound Rte 45, the defendant-appellant did not bring into question the territorial jurisdiction of the municipal court prior to or during the case, nor did the defense question the officer in charge which municipality the defendant was in when first the patrolman saw the initial violation.

Apparently, the first-ever question vis-à-vis territorial jurisdiction of the municipal court came from the defendant attorney on its de novo appeal in the Law Division. Furthermore, the defense did not offer to demonstrate not did it assert that Mr. Sylvia was not operating his vehicle in Woodbury Heights. The only contention, according to court records, was that the prosecution did not prove the defendant was in that jurisdiction, not to mention that they also failed, according to the defense, to prove that Woodbury Heights had jurisdiction in the case.

Court records show that the Law Division ruled on many of the defendant’s arguments that were brought up in the de novo appeal, however the judge didn’t address the issue of territorial jurisdiction. Apparently, the defendant’s failure to raise any objections in municipal court was not a critical to asserting his claim, since objections based on jurisdiction can be brought up any time.

Regardless, the outcome of the appeals hearing was less than satisfactory from the appellant. The Court stated that in this particular case, the jurisdictional evidence, as well as those facts subject to judicial notice, was adequate to allow the judge in the original case to find that violations charged against the defendant occurred within his court’s territorial jurisdiction — even if they continued beyond it for the actual arrest by the patrolman.

Considering all the facts: that the patrolman accurately and completely described the location of his initial sighting of the defendant’s violation, as well as the route he and the defendant both followed; that the officer stressed in his testimony that he was outside the municipality’s jurisdiction when the actually traffic stop occurred; and that the municipal judge stated that he was very familiar with that area; the Appeals Court stated that the boundary of the municipality is a fact that is a proper subject of judicial notice.

In concluding, the Court stated that the defendant was not entitled to an order vacating the judgment for lack of territorial jurisdiction. Because the appellant-defendant did not request of the municipal judge to make a finding and a basis for questioning territorial jurisdiction was not clearly indicated by the evidence, the judge’s failure to state the facts on which he determined to exercise jurisdiction is hardly worth mentioning.