Court Explains Grounds for Vacating a Guilty Plea in a New Jersey DWI Case

While generally people charged with DWI offer a defense at trial, in some instances, it makes sense for a defendant to enter a guilty plea. Even if a defendant chooses not to contest the charges against him or her though, the court must take certain measures to ensure that the defendant understands the ramifications of his or her choice; otherwise the plea could potentially be vacated at a later date. The grounds for vacating a guilty plea were recently discussed in a New Jersey action in which the defendant argued the factual basis for his not guilty plea was insufficient. If you are charged with driving while intoxicated in New Jersey, you should speak to a dedicated New Jersey DWI defense attorney to determine the best strategy to seek a favorable outcome under the facts of your case.

Factual and Procedural History

It is reported that the defendant crashed the car he was operating in 2011. He was transported to a hospital where it was revealed that his blood alcohol content was over twice the legal limit. As such, he was charged with a per se DWI offense, to which he entered a guilty plea. Then, in August 2018, the defendant was charged with a second DWI offense. Following the second charge, he moved to vacate his earlier conviction to avoid facing increased penalties as a repeat offender.

Allegedly, during oral argument on the matter, the defendant argued that he was not properly advised of the legal consequences of the plea and that the factual basis for the guilty verdict was inadequate. The lower court rejected the defendant’s reasoning, and the defendant appealed.

Grounds for Vacating a Guilty Plea in a New Jersey DWI Case

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was not properly advised of the consequences of his plea, finding that he did not raise the issue until he was charged with a subsequent DWI violation six years later. The court found, however, that the lower court failed to elicit a sufficient factual basis for the plea as required under New Jersey law.

The court explained that the requirement that there must be a factual basis to support a guilty plea is rooted in due process. Thus, a defendant must acknowledge facts that are considered the essential elements of the charged offense. A court can establish the factual basis for a guilty plea by asking the defendant to admit the facts that form the necessary element of the offense or by obtaining an express admission of guilt from the defendant. In other words, the court must address each element of the offense in specific detail.

In the subject case, the appellate court found that the lower court failed to obtain an acknowledgment from the defendant that he had no reason to believe that the State’s blood alcohol content evidence was inaccurate, and therefore he did not challenge the results. Thus, the appellate court found that the lower court failed to establish the factual basis requirement. As such, the court vacated the verdict and remanded for further proceedings.

Speak to an Experienced New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you live in New Jersey and are accused of a DUI in a school zone, it is in your best interest to speak to an attorney to discuss what strategies you may be able to employ to protect your rights. The dedicated New Jersey DWI defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall have ample experience representing people charged with DWI offenses, and we will work diligently to help you seek a just outcome. You can contact us via our online form or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a meeting.

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