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Out of State Convictions for 'DWI-like' Offenses Count in NJ

Many people do not realize that a prior, out-of-state conviction for DWI/DUI will enhance (i.e., make worse) a subsequent DWI conviction here in New Jersey.  Our Appellate Division of the State Superior Court recently re-affirmed this principle in State v. Zeikel.

In State v. Zeikel, the defendant had 3 previous drinking-and-driving related convictions: his first was in New York in 1981 for driving while ability impaired (DWAI); his second was also in New York in 1984 for DWAI and refusing to submit to a chemical test; and his third was in 1994 in Chatham, New Jersey, for DWI and refusal.  The offense giving rise to this appeal occurred in 2009 in Bedminster, New Jersey.  After pleading guilty to DWI in 2010, the Bedminster Municipal Court judge sentenced defendant as a third or subsequent offender, taking into account his New York convictions in the 1980s.  He was sentenced to 180 days in the county jail along with a 10 year suspension of his driving privileges, as well as the mandatory financial penalties.

On appeal, the Appellate Court concluded that the defendant was properly sentenced as a third or subsequent offender based upon his prior conviction in New Jersey for DWI, and his two prior convictions in New York for DWAI.  The Court held that the New York convictions were of a "substantially similar nature" to that of a DWI violation in New Jersey, which count as prior convictions under the New Jersey DWI statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.  Despite various legal and constitutional arguments advanced by the defense to the contrary, the Court sent a loud and clear message that out of state convictions for "DWI-like" offenses will serve to enhance a subsequent DWI conviction in New Jersey, and result in greater penalties including significant jail time and loss of driving privileges.

The Zeikel decision reaffirms existing law and will continue to have legal significance throughout the State, including DWI prosecutions in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

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