DWI Charge Dismissed After State’s Unreasonable Delays

In a recent Appellate Division decision the Court held that a trial delay of 344 days caused by the repeated unpreparedness of the municipal prosecutor and multiple failures to appear by the State Police violated the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial, and ordered the charges dismissed.

In State v Tsetsekas, the Court laid out an analysis to be employed by NJ judges when deciding if defendant’s speedy trial motions should be granted. Most experienced DWI lawyers in New Jersey will include a demand for a speedy trial in their initial court filings. It is often the case that DWI prosecutions are delayed by the State, sometimes to the point of being unreasonable. Nonetheless, it is typically very difficult for the defendant to obtain a dismissal based on these grounds. Reading the case makes two things clear; 1) the standard for municipal prosecutors with regard to preparedness and timing has been significantly changed; and 2) in my opinion, in most courts, the delay will have to be egregious for the judge to consider dismissal , no different than before.

I could be wrong about my interpretation, but until a see more cases dismissed, the verdict is still out. I say this because of one particular fact. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country. Although I zealously defend those charged with DWI, I can say in good conscious, that MADD has created some needed and worthy DWI legislation. The group also has  a courtroom presence and can quickly gather media attention to high profile DWI cases. Monitoring of this nature may cause some courts to be weary of granting dismissals of DWI offenses, even when presented with fairly obvious violations of constitutional rights, fearing that decisions of this nature will attract attention. This is not to say that courts are willing to violate the defendant’s  constitutional rights because of perceived pressure, but the court may  subconsciously make a ” better safe than sorry” calculation when deciding motions to dismiss based on speedy trial grounds. Nonetheless, the motion for a speedy trial will have more teeth than it did before, making this case a minor victory for DWI defense lawyers.