New Jersey’s Supreme Court has ruled that defendants facing a third driving-while-intoxicated charge are not entitled to a jury trial.
The justices determined a jury trial is not warranted, because drunk driving in New Jersey is not a criminal offense but rather a motor vehicle infraction with a penalty of no more than six months in jail. Those cases are heard before a judge in municipal court.Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is also a municipal prosecutor. He says he understands why the Supreme Court decided not to change that.”It would create havoc with the thousands of cases that are pending in municipal court,” Gusciora said. “They would have to be transferred to the Superior Court. Prosecutors in the county would have to start all over. So it would be very difficult making such a transition.”Gusciora says he’ll introduce legislation to make a third drunk-driving offense a felony that could result in a trial by jury. He says making it a criminal offense would send a message that repeat offenders could face a longer jail sentence.”It could be a trial by jury, but also I think it raises the gravity of the matter,” he said. “And also I think Superior Court best handles someone who has been driving third time drunk as far as getting them help and making sure that they seek treatment.”Gusciora says making it a criminal offense would send a message that if you’re a three-time offender you could face a longer jail sentence.Instead of hearing their cases in municipal court, Gusciora says it would be best to send the three-time offenders to Superior Court and make sure they get the help and treatment they need.