In a previous article on this site, I had written that the New Jersey Appellate Division had ruled that a person convicted of a first time DUI could be convicted as a second offender if he had a prior conviction for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer. This decision had a potentially devastating effect on people's rights, as they could be subject to the much stiffer penalties of a second offense without actually being convicted of a first offense! An object lesson on this was described in this post. On May 20, of last year, I had reported that the New Jersey Supreme Court had agreed to hear an appeal of this decision.
Well, I am pleased to report that on January 19, 2011, in a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that a prior conviction for refusing to submit to a breath test does not enhance a subsequent conviction for drunk driving. The Court's opinion, written by Judge Stern, restores the law to the way it was under State v. Disomma prior to the Appellate Division's decision in this case.
Wow! Crisis averted! Drunk driving laws are stiff in New Jersey, as they should be, but this decision by the Appellate Division was just a manifest injustice that had the potential of punishing people for something they did not do. Let's hope we see more decisions like this out of this court in the future!
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