The New Jersey Law Journal reports a change in how the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) assesses points on traffic tickets that are dismissed in court and merged with another offense as part of a plea bargain. The change began in May and will have a major impact on municipal court traffic cases where plea bargaining of NJ Title 39 motor vehicle offenses is now common practice. The MVC policy relies on an unreported November 2007 opinion in State v. Price (2007 WL 3287844) (password needed), an appeal of a judgment of conviction for second degree eluding where the trial court merged motor vehicle offenses into the eluding conviction. The Monmouth County Appellate Division rejected the appeal but, on its own motion, remanded the judgment of conviction to the trial court to require the imposition of mandatory motor vehicles points:
This merger, however, does not obviate the imposition of mandatory penalties under Title 39….“Those penalties…must survive the merger, particularly since they represent not only punishment for the offender but also protection for the driving public.”
In May, the MVC sent a memo to municipal judges, court administrators and municipal prosecutors to announce the change. But the change comes with very little notice to the NJ municipal court defense bar catching many off guard.
Traditionally, NJ Supreme Court rules prohibited plea bargaining in municipal court. Now, plea bargains in the Municipal Courts are permitted and governed by R. 7:6-2(d). In July, 2000, the NJ Legislature passed P.L.2000, c.75 to prohibit operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner and to allow municipal prosecutors to move before the municipal court to amend the original charge to a lesser offense. This lesser offense, “Unsafe Driving”, imposes no points against the defendant’s record. This resulted in plea bargains amending a point-producing charge, such as speeding or passing on the right, to a charge without points. That practice will change as a result of the new MVC directive. Now, to insulate a defendant from MVC points, the better practice will be to ask the municipal prosecutor to move for a directed verdict of not guilty. Whether municipal prosecutors will make such motions is another question as the affect on revenues generated in muncipal courts could be significant. That is an item for a separate posting.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal, Points Now Assessed For Merged Traffic Charges by Charles Toutant, June 19, 2008 (password needed)