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Prior DWI Convictions Inadmissible as Evidence in NJ Vehicular Homicide Trial

In a recent criminal matter, State v. Green, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s two prior driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions were not admissible in evidence at his trial.  Defendant Green was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide while intoxicated when he struck and killed a pedestrian at an intersection within 1,000 feet of a school.  In New Jersey, charges for vehicular homicide (Death by Auto) require that the person was aware of, but consciously disregarded, the substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with driving while intoxicated.  The defendant in Green had two prior convictions for DWI, one in 1998 and another in 2009.

At trial, the State of New Jersey attempted to introduce the defendant’s prior DWI convictions as evidence to show that the defendant “had knowledge of the substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with driving while intoxicated.”  However, the court found that the evidence was too prejudicial to the Defendant and could mislead the jury to assume that the defendant acted in conformity with his prior behavior and conduct.  On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that while prior DWI convictions may in some cases be admissible, the trial court in Green used sound discretion to exclude the convictions and avoid the potential for undue prejudice to the defendant.

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