At her trial, the defendant in Sylvester argued she was not guilty of violating N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b), asserting her license was not validly suspended at the time of the alleged offense because the conviction was subsequently vacated. The trial court rejected this argument and reasoned that on the date the defendant drove, her license was suspended, and she was aware of the suspension. The court therefore denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment and found her guilty and we affirmed.
The facts here are distinguishable from Sylvester because, by the time of defendant’s trial on the N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b) charge, he had only one prior DWI conviction. Here, defendant initially plead guilty to two DWI charges. Like Sylvester, defendant obtained PCR, vacating his DWI convictions. However, unlike Sylvester, defendant was not re-convicted of both DWI charges; the court dismissed one and he plead guilty to the other. Therefore, at the time the Law Division convicted defendant of violating N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b), his second DWI conviction had been vacated. Accordingly, the State could not prove an element of the crime charged – a second DWI conviction – a prerequisite to the mandatory 180-day incarceration.
It is hard to believe that the defendant Sylvester thought she could escape the mandatory 180 days in jail. It would be fundamentally unfair to the State to allow her to avoid jail by just temporarily vacating a prior DUI conviction before having the conviction re-instated.
The Appellate panel continued: Our holding is consistent with State v. Laurick, where our Supreme Court held “a prior uncounseled DWI conviction may establish repeat-offender status for purposes of the enhanced penalty provisions of the DWI laws”; however, “a defendant may not suffer an increased period of incarceration as a result of an uncounseled DWI conviction.” The court provided guidance for future cases, stating that unless the lack of counsel results in a “miscarriage of justice,” the court should not grant relief.