If the state of New Jersey is going to prosecute drunk drivers with the same zeal as it goes after criminals, the same basic rules of law should apply to both types of cases. Recently, the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court ruled that even defendants charged with driving under the influence of alcohol deserve a fair and speedy trial. As a New Jersey DWI defense lawyer, I have personally experienced the delays that occur with many drunken driving cases every year.
According to court records, the appellate court decided late last year that speedy trials are the right of everyone caught up in the state’s judicial system. Based on reports, the court overturned a DWI conviction simply because the prosecution allowed the defendant’s case to be dragged out for almost one year.
The decision was released in December essentially ruling that the guarantee of a speedy trial in the Bill of Rights also applies to cases of drunk driving. Unfortunately for motorists accused of driving while intoxicated, courts have been known to generally ignore most of the constitutional protections when it came to DWI cases. For example, the US Supreme Court swept aside the Fourth Amendment right of innocent drivers to be free from warrantless searches so that DWI checkpoints could be conducted.
In this most recent case, the infringement was so extreme that the court had little choice but to overturn the DWI conviction of Christos E. Tsetsekas that resulted from a May 8, 2007 arrest for being just over the legal limit for intoxication. Seven days later, Tsetsekas appeared in court to plead not guilty.
According to news reports, Tsetsekas appeared in July for his trial, but the prosecutor asked the judge to postpone until August. State police officials then delayed, saying it would take time to produce a copy of the dashcam video that documented Tsetsekas’ arrest. The judge set a September court date, and subsequently an October date. After police found the tape in November, the prosecutor asked for another delay because he had not seen the footage.
Trial did begin in December, but the only witness for the prosecution available was a state trooper who did not show up until 11pm. Because the remainder of the prosecution’s witnesses were not ready, the trial was scheduled to resume in March 2008. On that date, none of the troopers appeared. Finally, the trial wrapped up on April 16 and Tsetsekas was convicted.
At the time, the trial judge concluded that because the prosecutor had not maliciously delayed as a means of harming the defendant’s case, the defendant’s right to due process was not infringed. The appellate court’s three-judge panel disagreed and put the blame for the dismissal squarely on the shoulders of the prosecutor.
New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Speedy Trials for DUI, TheNewsPaper.com, January 12, 2010