Judges Need Not Suspend D/L Following CD with Guilty Plea – NJSA 2C:36A-1

Yesterday, the governor signed amendments to portions of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987 related to suspension of driving privileges. As you may recall, last year, as a result of changes in federal law, the Legislature authorized judges to forego the suspension of driving privileges following a conviction for a drug offense when the defendant can demonstrate compelling circumstances that will result in extreme hardship. (See NJSA 2C:35-16(a). See also State v. Bendix, 396 N.J.Super. 91, 933 A.2d 1 (App. Div. 2007) defining compelling circumstances and extreme hardship.)

The amendments signed yesterday by the governor will now enable judges to forego a license suspension on grounds of hardship in those cases where a defendant seeks a conditional discharge under NJSA 2C:36A-1 following a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt after trial.

A second law signed by the governor amends NJSA 2C:35-16 to now authorize a judicial reconsideration of sentence based upon a showing of compelling circumstances for those defendants who have previously lost their driving privileges due to a drug conviction.

Notwithstanding the amendment to the law, this procedure was already available and authorized by the Rules of Court. (See generally R. 7:9-4)

The amended statutes and accompanying statement are as follows:

1. N.J.S.2C:36A-1 is amended to read as follows:

(2) After plea of guilty or finding of guilty, and without entering a judgment of conviction, and with the consent of the person after proper reference to the State Bureau of Identification criminal history record information files, place him on supervisory treatment upon reasonable terms and conditions as it may require, or as otherwise provided by law.

b. In no event shall the court require as a term or condition of supervisory treatment under this section, referral to any residential treatment facility for a period exceeding the maximum period of confinement prescribed by law for the offense for which the individual has been charged or convicted, nor shall any term of supervisory treatment imposed under this subsection exceed a period of three years. If a person is placed under supervisory treatment under this section after a plea of guilty or finding of guilt, the court as a term and condition of supervisory treatment shall suspend the person’s driving privileges for a period to be fixed by the court at not less than six months or more20than two years unless the court finds compelling circumstances warranting an exception. For the purposes of this subsection, compelling circumstances warranting an exception exist if the suspension of the person’s driving privileges will result in extreme hardship and alternative means of transportation are not available.

NJSA 2C:35-16 is amended as follows:

d. After sentencing and upon notice to the prose cutor, a person subject to suspension or postponement of driving privileges under this section may seek revocation of the remaining portion of any suspension or postponement based on compelling circumstances warranting an exception that were not raised at the time of sentencing. The court may revoke the suspension or postponement if it finds compelling circumstances.

Legislative Statement

This bill allows a court to make an exception to the mandatory driver’s license suspension under the State’s conditional discharge statute if it finds that compelling circumstances warrant an exception. The bill specifies that compelling circumstances exist if the suspension of the person’s driving privileges will result in extreme hardship and alternative means of transportation are not available.

Under current law, a person with no previous convictions for a State or federal drug offense who is charged with or convicted of a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons under the State’s controlled dangerous substance or drug paraphernalia law, as set out in chapters 35 and 36 of the Criminal Code (Title 2C), may be placed by the court under supervisory treatment subject to certain terms and conditions. If the person complies with these terms and conditions and does not commit another offense, the court will dismiss the charges. This law requires the court to impose a six-month to two-year driver’s license suspension on persons under supervisory treatment who were found guilty or have pleaded guilty to the offense. This bill would make the suspension discretionary if the court finds compelling circumstances warrant an exception.

Prior to enactment of P.L.2005, c.343, every person convicted of an offense concerning controlled dangerous substances or drug paraphernalia was required to forfeit his or her driving privileges for a period of six months to two years. P.L.2005, c.343 changed the law to allow the court to refrain from imposing the driver’s license suspension if compelling circumstances warrant an exception. This bill extends the compelling circumstances exception to persons who proceed under the conditional discharge statute.

The bill also clarifies that a person whose driver’s license is suspended or postponed due to a controlled dangerous substance or drug paraphernalia conviction may seek to have the suspension or postponement revoked based on compelling circumstances warranting an exception that were not raised at sentencing.

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