Prior DUI Convictions in Jurisdictions with Similar Laws Can Be Considered by NJ Courts

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in New Jersey. While first-timers may be treated a little more leniently, repeat offenders face harsh penalties. Anyone tempted to drive under the influence should know that not all DUI convictions need to occur in this State in order to be considered a repeated offense. If, after reading this, you have questions regarding the DUI laws in New Jersey, in Hunterdon County or another county within New Jersey, contact the lawyers at Ragland Law Firm.

A New Jersey Appeals Court earlier this month ruled that a lower court in Bedminster was right when it treated Jeffrey Zeikel as a repeat offender after a December 2009 DUI arrest. Mr. Zeikel pleaded guilty to the charge – his fourth – in June 2010, but argued that he should be considered a first-time offender due to a provision in the State’s DUI law. That provision allows that if more than 10 years pass between a first and second offense, the second incident be treated as a first-time offense. Mr. Zeikel’s last offense before the Bedminster charge occurred in Chatham 16 years earlier. Before that, however, he was convicted twice in New York State, once in 1981 and again only 3 years later in 1984. (1)

At the original hearing in Bedminster Municipal Court, Mr. Zeikel was sentenced to 180 days in prison, received a fine of $1,006 and lost his license for 10 years. (1) Usually first-time offenders would receive jail time of up to 30 days, fines of between $300 and $500, and a license suspension of between 7 and 12 months under New Jersey law. (2)

Mr. Zeikel appealed, claiming that since 16 years passed between the two New Jersey offenses, he should be treated as a first-time offender. A Somerset County Superior Court judge upheld the earlier decision, citing Mr. Zeikel’s earlier convictions. Mr. Zeikel again appealed, stating that his New York State convictions were not “substantially similar” to his latest conviction. The State Appellate Division disagreed and, once again, Mr. Zeikel’s conviction was upheld. (1)

In 1997, New Jersey’s DUI statute was amended. Prior to that, a conviction in another jurisdiction had to be based on blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .10 percent or better in order to be considered in a New Jersey court. The amendment changed things so that prosecutors only had to show the defendant was convicted of violating a law “substantially similar in nature” to New Jersey law, taking the emphasis off of the BAC. The statute was further amended in 2003, lowering the BAC to .08 percent. (1)

The Appellate Division judges found that these amendments applied retroactively to Mr. Zeikel’s case and held that since New Jersey and New York have similar drunk driving laws, Mr. Zeikel’s prior New York convictions could be considered at sentencing in the Bedminster case. (1)

DUI laws vary from state to state and sometimes even within a state. In New Jersey the penalties can vary from offense to offense. (3) If you or someone you know is struggling with the complications of a DUI case, contact the DUI lawyers at Ragland Law Firm. Ragland Law Firm is located in Lebanon, NJ, close to Clinton and within 10 miles of Flemington, NJ.



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