Here is Another Reason Not to Plead Guilty
In State of New Jersey v. Erik J. Murphy, the Appellate Division agreed with the Defendant that his sentence was improper. The Appellate Division ruled that the Trial Court ignored the sentencing guidelines and failed to follow proper sentencing procedures and remanded the case back to the Trial Court for resentencing. In this case, the Defendant was convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; refusal to submit to a breath test, N.J.S.A.39:4-50.2;1 and reckless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4-96.2 The Law Division judge imposed a ninety-day driver's license suspension for the reckless driving conviction, a seven-month driver's license suspension for the DWI conviction to run consecutive to the suspension imposed for the reckless driving conviction, and a seven-month driver's license suspension for the refusal to submit to a breath test conviction to run consecutive to the suspension for the DWI conviction. The Defendant argued that the license suspension(s) should run concurrently, not consecutively, and that the sentence was excessive and unwarranted. The Appellate Division agreed with the Defendant that a driver's license suspension is not an automatic sanction for reckless driving, rather the Court is simply authorized to impose a suspension for reckless driving. State v. Moran, 202 N.J. 311, 322 (2010),5 N.J.S.A. 39:5-31. However, in order to suspend an individual's license, the Court must first determine whether there are aggravating circumstances, that is, whether the driver “willfully violated the reckless-driving statute by engaging in conduct that is highly ‘likely to endanger a person or property.'” Id. at 323-24 (quoting N.J.S.A. 39:4-96); see also State v. Palma, 426N.J. Super. 510, 518 (App. Div. 2012). The court must then consider the following factors in determining whether to impose a license suspension under N.J.S.A. 39:5-31 and the length of the suspension:
- The nature and circumstances of the defendant's conduct, including whether the conduct posed a high risk of danger to the public or caused physical harm or property damage;
- the defendant's driving record, including the defendant's age and length of time as a licensed driver, and the number, seriousness, and frequency of prior infractions;
- whether the defendant was infraction-free for a substantial period before the most recent violation or whether the nature and extent of the defendant's driving record indicates that there is a substantial risk that he or she will commit another violation;
- whether the character and attitude of the defendant indicate that he or she is likely or unlikely to commit another violation;
- whether the defendant's conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur;
- whether a license suspension would cause excessive hardship to the defendant and/or dependents;
- the need for personal deterrence; and
- any other relevant factor clearly identified by the court may be considered as well. Id. at 328-29.
The Appellate Divsion also stated that it is not necessarily the number of factors that apply but the weight to be attributed to a factor or factors. Id.at 328-29. The court must then articulate the reasons for imposing a period of license suspension. Id.at 329. In this case the Court did not articulate a reason or basis for the exceptionally harsh sentence. As such the Appellate Division reversed the Trial Court and remanded the case for resentencing.