Increased Penalties for Violations of “This” Section- Which Section??

State v. Ciancaglini, 204 N.J. 597 (2011).  This case posed the question of whether a violation of the breathalyzer refusal statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.4a, can be used to enhance a conviction under the DWI statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.  The two statutes are separate enactments but they are obviously related to a certain extent.  The penalties for DWI are increased for repeat offenders, so it was very important to the defendant whether a conviction for refusing the breath test would be considered as an additional DWI offense.

There were conflicting decisions of the Appellate Division on this issue.  The decision below in Ciancaglini had held that a refusal conviction could be used to enhance a DWI conviction.  A prior opinion, State v. DiSomma, 262 N.J. Super. 375 (App. Div. 1993), however, had gone the other way.

In a unanimous opinion by Judge Stern, the Supreme Court reversed Ciancaglini and endorsed the result of DiSomma.  The Court concluded that although the two statutes are both “part of a statutory complex designed to rid the highways of drunk drivers and to make our roads safer, each is a separate section (each referring to ‘this section’) ….”  Thus, the references in the DWI statute to increased penalties “[f]or a second violation” or “[f]or a third or subsequent violation” encompass only additional DWI violations, not violations of the separate refusal statute, a different “section.”