In State v. White, the Honorable Richard Bowe, J.M.C., sitting in the Byram Township Municipal Court, ruled that the Sussex County Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) is not available to a defendant convicted of driving while suspended (N.J.S. 39:3-40) when the reason for the suspension is a nj dwi conviction. The Court ruled therefore that the statutory jail term (10 to 90 days) is mandatory, and the only permissible option. The opinion was approved for publication on April 23, 2010 (Municipal Court Opinions are rarely published).
This is another ruling that I believe targets DWI Defendants unfairly. Defendants who commit other offenses are entitled to the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) in lieu of jail; for instance an intentional assault on another. A Defendant whose license is suspended for multiple moving violations and even causing the death of someone else while driving recklessly and later caught driving while suspended would be entitled to the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) in lieu of jail. A Defendant convicted of DWI in New Jersey who is suspended, and then drove (for instance, to take his sick wife or children to the hospital) would be ineligible for SLAP. I find that inequality unjust.
I respect Judge Bowe. The Opinion however, has limited precedential value in other Courts. Given that this is a Municipal Court Ruling, it does not have to be followed by other Judges. Other Courts can look to the ruling as persuasive authority, but they are free to reject Judge Bowe’s ruling and reasoning.
I have been a New Jersey DWI Defense Lawyer for nearly twenty years. The defense of DWI (and those charged with driving while suspended after a conviction) has become increasingly specialized, complex and challenging. I understand the broad public policy against drunk driving. The unfair treatment of dwi defendants is however, troublesome to me. A defendant charged with a drive-by-shooting or rape can engage in plea bargaining (i.e. plead guilty to a reduced charge); a nj dwi defendant cannot. That same defendant can seek a jail alternative; a third nj dwi offender or one who drove during a period of suspension for a dwi conviction period cannot.