On May 12, 2016, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided State v. Denelsbeck (A-42-14). In this case, the defendant was facing a fourth conviction for DWI. He argued that due to the jail term of 6 months plus the additional penalties for third and subsequent DWI convictions, he should be entitled to a jury trial.
Normally, defendants facing 6 months or less in jail are not entitled to jury trials. Defendants who are charged with a third or subsequent DWI offense face 6 months in jail, loss of driving privileges for 10 years, mandatory interlock installation, over $1,000 in penalties and other consequences. Denelsbeck argued that because of all of these penalties that have been “packed” on third and subsequent DWI convictions, those cases are serious enough to warrant jury trials, despite the maximum 6 months in jail.
However, the Supreme Court did not agree and ruled that the additional penalties do not warrant a jury trial. The Court found that a bench trial does not violate the Sixth Amendment for the purposes of DWI cases in New Jersey.
In the event that the Legislature adds more penalties to the drunk driving statute, we may see jury trials granted in at least some cases.