New Jersey Court Discusses Standard for Granting a Petition to Withdraw an Uncounseled Guilty Plea in a DWI Case

Multiple DWI convictions can result in severe consequences, including the loss of a driver’s license. Thus, it is prudent for anyone charged with DWI to consult an attorney to discuss which defenses may be available to help avoid a conviction or reduce any penalties. This was demonstrated in a recent case, in which a defendant sought to appeal a prior DWI conviction that was entered following a hearing during which he was not represented by counsel. If you were recently charged with a DWI offense in New Jersey, a trusted New Jersey DWI defense attorney can discuss the steps that you can take to protect your rights.

Facts of the Underlying Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with DWI in 2003. He appeared before the court without counsel and entered a guilty plea. During the hearing, the judge advised the defendant of the consequences of entering a guilty plea and explained the impact of multiple convictions. The judge did not advise the defendant, however, that he had the right to request that the court appoint an attorney to defend him if he could not afford to retain counsel. The defendant entered a guilty plea, regardless. The defendant was subsequently charged with and convicted of two other DWI crimes. For his third offense, he received a 10-year license suspension.

In 2016, the defendant was arrested for operating a vehicle with a license that was suspended for a second or subsequent DWI conviction. The defendant was found guilty. Prior to sentencing, he filed a motion to withdraw his 2003 guilty plea. The municipal court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed. Following a trial before the Law Division, the defendant’s appeal was denied, and he was sentenced to 364 days in prison. He then appealed the denial of his appeal and his sentence.

Overturning a DWI Conviction Due to Lack of Counsel

The court noted that prior to sentencing the defendant, the municipal court judge, who was the judge who presided over the defendant’s 2003 hearing, stated that he could have done better advising the defendant of his rights. He denied the motion, however, noting that the defendant knew that he was over the legal limit due to the arrest documents, and that the defendant never argued that he was innocent. Furthermore, the judge found that the defendant’s extreme delay in seeking to withdraw his plea weighed heavily against him and would result in substantial prejudice to the State.

On appeal, although the court found that the Law Division judge ruled correctly in denying the defendant’s motion to withdraw his uncounseled plea from 2003, recent case law required the order to be vacated and remanded. Specifically, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided in August 2019 that when a DWI defendant is not advised of his or her right to counsel, the defendant is not required to establish that the outcome of the proceedings would have been different if he or she had been represented by counsel in order to obtain relief. As a result, the court vacated the Law Division ruling and remanded the case to the Law Division to fully assess the issues.

Speak with a Zealous DWI Defense Attorney

If you live in New Jersey and are faced with a DWI charge, you should speak with a zealous New Jersey DWI attorney regarding your potential defenses. The diligent attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are skilled at helping people fight DWI charges, and we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. We can be reached at 877-450-8301 or via our form online to set up a conference.