TRENTON – The state Supreme Court has barred a sentencing break for some motorists caught driving on suspended licenses.
In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the high court ruled against “intermittent sentencing” — jail terms served at night or on weekends — for repeat offenders who drive while suspended for a DWI.
The ruling arose from a Camden County case, where five motorists received intermittent sentences totaling 180 days each from Superior Court Judge Frederick Schuck in July 2016.
. (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office challenged the sentences, arguing a state law required the motorists to be jailed for 180 days without interruption.
The law makes it a fourth-degree crime to drive “for the second time” during a DWI suspension, or during a suspension for “a second or subsequent DWI.”
An appeals court last year upheld the intermittent sentences, although it also said defendants had to spend “continuous 24-hour periods” in jail to satisfy each day of their 180-day terms.
The 2018 ruling noted the five defendants had pleaded guilty based on Schuck’s promise of an intermittent sentence over the prosecution’s objection.
It said the intermittent sentences, which included probationary terms for three motorists, allowed the defendants to keep their jobs and to address family and health concerns.
The Supreme Court’s decision acknowledged the state’s criminal code allows a “sentence of imprisonment to be served ‘at night or on weekends’ unless the criminal code provides otherwise.”
But it noted the motorists were sentenced under a law that “specifically provides” for a minimum term of “not less than 180 days’ without parole eligibility.
The High Court determined the Legislature had chosen the law’s language “to serve as a bar to release, even intermittently, during the period of parole ineligibility.”
The ruling noted laws with similar language require “fixed periods of parole ineligibility” for the most dangerous offenders. It said intermittent sentences, if allowed for motorists, could be extended to people convicted of the most serious crimes, including gun and drug offenses.
“This is a result the Legislature could not have intended,” said the decision, written by Justice Lee Solomon.
A representative of the prosecutor’s office could not be reached for immediate comment.
The motorists’ sentences have been stayed pending the appeal by the prosecutor’s office.
Tuesday’s ruling noted three defendants — Eric Lowers of Sicklerville, Courtney Swiderski of Atco and Stephen Nolan of Gloucester — will now seek to withdraw their guilty pleas.
A fourth defendant, Elizabeth Colon of Pittsgrove, is to be resentenced.
The fifth motorist, Rene Rodriguez of Pennsauken, opted to serve his 180-day sentence while the case was before the Supreme Court. https://www.app.com/story/news/local/courts/2019/05/21/new-jersey-supreme-court-intermittent-sentence-driving-while-suspended-dwi-schuck/3758498002/