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Gusciora to Introduce Bill Making 3rd DWI a Felony in light of Supreme Court Decision

Bill also Calls for no Jury Trial or Pre-Trial Intervention Eligibility

In light of Thursday’s State Supreme Court ruling that a defendant is not entitled to a jury when facing a third or subsequent driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora is proposing legislation that would make a third DWI a felony with no jury trial or pre-trial intervention eligibility.

In State v. Denelsbeck, the Supreme Court ruled 5-1 on Thursday that the defendant, James Denelsbeck, did not have the right to a trial by jury when facing 180 days of incarceration for his third DWI offense. His request for a jury trial was previously denied by a municipal court and that ruling was affirmed by the Superior Court and the Appellate Division.

“Contrary to popular perception, there is not a universal right to trial by jury,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon), who is currently drafting legislation to make a third DWI charge a felony. “Pursuant to the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defendant only has a right to a trial by jury if the potential sentence exceeds six months of incarceration. If you are even on par with a six month sentence, you will lose the possibility of being judged by your peers.

“New Jersey classifies DWIs as a motor vehicle violation and not a criminal offense, which downplays the severity of someone’s decision to drive drunk and endanger themselves and innocent bystanders. Subsequent drunk driving offenses should be treated as a premeditated violent crime considering that an individual with a previous history of driving drunk knows the potential violent dangers of their actions.”

Gusciora plans to introduce the legislation at the next General Assembly quorum call currently scheduled for May 19.