NJ DWI Lawyers: ‘Step Down’ Rule Explained

An important decision was made earlier this month on the issue of repeat DWI offenders on the “step down” rule (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3)). The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that drunken drivers charged with multiple offenses may use a “step-down” provision in the state’s drunken driving statute more than once, provided that at least 10 years separates the previous driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction from the conviction at issue.

DWI Statute N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)

New Jersey’s DWI statute prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor,” or “with a blood alcohol concentration [(BAC)] of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant’s blood.”

Step Down Provision N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3).

The “step down” provision, first added to New Jersey’s DWI statutory scheme in 1977, was amended to its current form in 1981. It provides in pertinent part: “if the second offense occurs more than 10 years after the first offense, the court shall treat the second conviction as a first offense for sentencing purposes and if a third offense occurs more than 10 years after the second offense, the court shall treat the third conviction as a second offense for sentencing purposes.”

State of New Jersey v. James J. Revie

On December 17, in the State of New Jersey v. James J. Revie, the court also ruled unanimously that the “step down” provision can be used only to reduce a DWI defendant’s jail time but not fines and surcharges. This appeal raises the issue of whether a repeat DWI offender may, on more than one occasion, invoke the “step-down” provision and thereby avoid the enhanced penalties prescribed by the statute.

Prior to the offense at issue in this case, defendant James Revie was convicted of three DWI offenses. He was convicted of his first DWI conviction, in Hillsdale, N.J., in 1981. He pleaded guilty to another DWI offense in Bogota, N.J., in 1982, but was not represented by an attorney. His third DWI conviction, in Montvale, N.J., came in 1994. But because more than 10 years had passed between his second and third convictions, he was allowed to invoke the “step-down” provision for purposes of jail time. Then in 2011, he was convicted for a fourth DWI offense in Wharton, N.J.

Revie attempted to invoke the step-down provision again after his fourth DWI offense in 2011, arguing that more than 10 years had passed since his last conviction (1994). A municipal court disagreed, saying the step-down provision could be used only once. The judge sentenced Revie as a third-time offender to 180 days in jail, suspended his license for 10 years and ordered him to pay $1,364 in fines, costs and surcharges.

The judgment of the Appellate Division reversed; the case remanded to the Law Division for resentencing in accordance with this opinion; and the Supreme Court agreed to hear Revie’s appeal.

Contact Our Experienced NJ DWI Lawyers

If you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI, DUI or refusal, contact the experienced New Jersey DWI lawyers of Villani & Deluca, P.C. immediately. Call 732-965-3350 for your complimentary initial consultation. We represent clients throughout Ocean County and Monmouth County, New Jersey.

home-publications