DWI School Zone Sentencing – State v. Reiner

Earlier this morning, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced its decision in State v. Reiner. Reiner presented the Court with two issues. The first concerned how a convicted drunk driver should be sentenced when his second dwi offense occurs within a school zone. The defendant in this case had one prior conviction under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) but no prior school zone offenses.

The Justices held that the school zone offense under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g) and the regular dwi violation under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) are entirely separate offenses, each of which requires a prior conviction for enhanced punishment. Thus, in order to be subject to second offender school zone penalties under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g), a defendant must have had a prior school zone conviction on his or her record.

Obviously, in every school zone sentencing case, there will always be a conviction under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) as well. The Justices ruled that the defendant should always receive the highest penalty available under either of the two sections. For example, if the defendant is subject to second offender sentencing under 39:4-50(a) and first offender sentencing under 39:4-50(g), he should receive the harsher second offense penalties under 39:4-50(a). The lesser school zone penalties would technically merge into the greater penalties.

(It is interesting to note that a person sentenced under any of the school zone provisions would avoid such the ignition interlock device requirement.)

The second issue decided by the Court in Reiner dealt with whether the defendant had adequate notice of his school zone offense since the ticket did not specify 39:4-50(g). The Justices ruled that on the facts of the case, the defendant had sufficient notice from extrinsic evidence (police reports, info from pre-trial conferences, etc.) to know that he was facing a school zone prosecution.

Download a copy of State v. Reiner

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