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Prior DWI With Subsequent Refusal – State v. Tekel

December 10, 2023

Prior DWI With Subsequent Refusal – Understanding the State v. Tekel Case

Dealing with drunk driving charges in New Jersey can be extremely complex, especially when there are prior offenses involved. A recent case, State v. Tekel, highlights some of the key issues that can come up when a person with a prior DWI conviction faces new charges for refusing to submit to a breath test.In the Tekel case, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and refused to take a breathalyzer test. This refusal would typically lead to license suspension and other civil penalties. However, because Tekel had a prior DWI conviction, he was sentenced as a second-time offender, facing criminal charges and much harsher punishments.

Why Refusal Charges Can Trigger Criminal Penalties

Under New Jersey law, refusing to take a breath test is not normally a criminal offense. The penalties are civil in nature, leading to license suspension but no jail time. However, in some cases, a refusal charge can trigger criminal penalties:

  • If there is a prior DWI conviction within 10 years
  • If there are multiple prior refusals on your record

In these situations, refusing to take the breath test moves from a civil violation to a criminal charge, and is essentially treated the same as a DWI conviction.

The Tekel Case Details

In State v. Tekel, the defendant was arrested on suspicion of DWI after being involved in a motor vehicle accident. At the police station, he was read his rights and the penalties for refusing the breath test, but declined to take it.Because Tekel had a prior DWI conviction from 2008, the refusal triggered criminal charges as a second offense. He pleaded guilty in municipal court and was sentenced to:

  • 90 days in jail
  • $1,000 criminal fine
  • 2 year license suspension
  • 12-48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Tekel appealed the sentence, but it was upheld by the higher courts under New Jersey law regarding prior offenses enhancing penalties for subsequent refusals.

Key Takeaways from the Tekel Case Ruling

The Tekel case set an important precedent in New Jersey refusal law. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Prior DWI Counts as First Offense – The courts affirmed that a prior DWI conviction can count as a “first offense” under refusal laws. So even if it’s your first refusal arrest, a previous DWI triggers enhanced penalties.
  • Refusal Treated Same as DWI Conviction – When enhanced by a prior DWI, a refusal charge takes on the same criminal penalties as a DWI conviction for sentencing purposes.
  • Look Back Period is 10 Years – The courts will look back up to 10 years to check for qualifying prior DWI offenses that can raise penalties for a refusal charge.

How New Jersey Laws Handle Multiple Prior Offenses

If there is more than one prior DWI or refusal on your record, the penalties escalate further under New Jersey law. Here is an overview:

  • Second Offense – Up to 90 days jail, 2 year license suspension, $1,000 fine
  • Third Offense – Up to 180 days jail, 10 year license suspension, $1,000 fine
  • Subsequent Offenses – Up to 180 days jail, 20 year license suspension, $2,000 fine

As you can see, New Jersey takes a tough stance when drivers with multiple prior offenses continue to flout the law by refusing the breath test. License suspensions also increase dramatically to deter repeat acts.

Defenses Against Refusal Charges

While refusal laws are strict in New Jersey, there are some defenses a skilled DUI lawyer may be able to raise in your defense:

  • No Probable Cause for Stop – If there was no legal reason for the traffic stop in the first place, evidence can potentially be suppressed.
  • Confusion Over Rights – If you can show you were confused about the penalties described, it may invalidate a “knowing” refusal.
  • Medical Inability – Conditions like asthma may prevent providing an adequate breath sample, which may excuse the refusal.
  • Mouth Alcohol – If you have dental implants or other mouth alcohol, breath results can be skewed, lending credence to a refusal.

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Defense

As you can see, overcoming refusal charges with prior DWIs requires an experienced lawyer with extensive DUI defense experience in New Jersey. They will know how to navigate the complex laws and sentencing rules, while aggressively challenging the charges at every stage.I know this is an extremely stressful situation to be in. But please know there are options, and people ready to help you through this difficult process. Don’t hesitate to contact my firm for a free case evaluation and to discuss the best defense strategies for your particular circumstances.Resources:How New Jersey Determines DUI Penalties and License SuspensionsThe Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) Program in New JerseyOverview of New Jersey DUI and Refusal LawsSentencing Guidelines for Repeat DUI/DWI Offenders in New Jersey

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