The most onerous part of the sentence in most, if not all, DWI cases is the license suspension. The suspension can range from seven months for a first offense to 10 years for a third offense. Because so much of New Jersey life revolves around the ability to drive, virtually every DWI client focuses first and foremost on the loss of their driving privileges. Many DWI defendants choose to appeal their conviction and sentence, and trial counsel can ask the sentencing court to stay the sentence, including the license suspension, pending appeal. In State v. Robertson, decided March 8, 2017, our Supreme Court addressed the standard for a stay pending appeal at two stages. The first is a stay pending appeal from the municipal court to the Law Division of the Superior Court for a trial de novo. The second is a stay pending appeal from a trial de novo in the Superior Court, Law Division, to the Appellate Division.
Robertson had a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of .13. He was convicted of a first offense DWI and, as part of his sentence, his license was suspended for seven months. The municipal court stayed the license suspension for 20 days to allow Robertson time to commence an appeal. After the trial de novo in the Law Division, the court found the defendant guilty and imposed the same sentence. Defense counsel sought to continue the stay of the license suspension pending further appeal, but the State opposed the request. The Law Division judge granted the application, providing the defendant filed his appeal with 10 days.
On further appeal, the Appellate Division observed that both of the lower courts stayed the license suspension pending appeal “without providing any statement of reasons.” The Court sought guidance for the standard for a stay in a DWI case in existing case law, stating that if a stay is granted, driving may be limited to such activities as employment, or conditioned upon the installation of an ignition interlock device among restrictions. The Supreme Court granted defendant’s petition for certification so as to address an issue of significant public importance concerning the standards for a stay of sentence in a DWI case. Continue reading