Sufficiency of Guilty Plea for previous DWI offense – Iowa v. Tovar

Given the mandatory 180-day jail term now required for a third offense conviction for drunk driving under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3), it is likely that the municipal courts will experience an increase in the number of post-conviction relief applications and State v. Laurick motions filed. Often, the central issue in these motions will be the voluntariness of a prior conviction based upon an uncounseled plea.

On March 8, 2004, the United States Supreme Court released an opinion that discusses in detail what is required under the 6th Amendment for a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of counsel as part of a plea. Iowa v. Tovar involves a 3rd offense dwi plea. The attorney representing the defendant sought to eliminate, for sentencing purposes, the first offense on the basis that it was taken from the defendant by way of a plea on a pro se basis without a proper waiver. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled for the defendant and held that the U.S. Constitution requires that a pro se defendant who pleads guilty must be advised by the court that he or she will be subject to the risk that a viable defense will not be asserted and that the guilty plea deprives the defendant of the opportunity to obtain an independent opinion of whether it it wise to resolve the case by pleading guilty.

The United States Supreme Court reversed the Iowa Supreme Court and held that the 6th Amendment does not require either of these warnings to be given. The Court went on to detail exactly what is required for an effective waiver.

Download Iowa v. Tovar

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