Our entire world has faced challenges since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Any business activity that requires large groups of people to gather has been forced to make serious adjustments. The court system is no exception. This article will provide some clarification on how courts are handling DWI charges during the pandemic and how you can best defend your case given these unusual circumstances.

Are the New Jersey Courts Open During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Although there was a period in March and April 2020 where courts were not functioning, all municipal courts in New Jersey are now fully operational and are conducting regular sessions. To avoid the spread of the pandemic, all municipal courts have relied on virtual sessions using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other virtual media platforms. Zoom is the most commonly used application in New Jersey by far.

If you are charged with a DWI, expect the court administrator to obtain information they would not otherwise ask you for. Specifically, they will need a cell phone number and an email address for you so that they can communicate during the pandemic. In advance of your first court date, you will receive an email from the court with a link for a virtual session. At the Law Offices of Chris Baxter, we make sure to provide you written reminders as well as a copy of any Zoom link well ahead of the court session so you can be prepared.

How to Act on a Virtual Court Call

On the day of court, you will be expected to log into the session. Because of the virtual nature of the court proceeding, some past attendees have acted as if they were in their own home. Judges have quickly cracked down on this and required the traditional behavior expected in the courtroom. Participants must be fully clothed, not eating, drinking, or smoking, and should remain on “mute” until their case is called.

Those defendants represented by attorneys can expect to see their attorney briefly on the virtual screen. Attorneys are then ushered into a virtual breakout room with the municipal prosecutor to discuss various aspects of the case. Thereafter, your attorney will return to the virtual courtroom and your matter will be placed before the judge.

At our office, we thoroughly prepare the client for each court session even if it will result in a routine postponement. We provide written instruction on how to “Zoom” on to the virtual platform, we provide telephonic instruction from Chris Baxter directly on what to expect during the virtual court session, and of course we follow up immediately with a status of the case after the virtual court session is over. It’s this type of hands-on defense that gets the best results.

The use of a virtual court room has its conveniences but also its challenges. Some types of DUI convictions do not carry a driver’s license loss. To the extent there is a finding of guilt on that type of DUI charge, arrangements must be made in advance so that there is an appointment to obtain an interlock device—otherwise the client will suffer a suspension. It is this attention to detail by your attorney that will allow you to keep your driving privilege even if you sustain a DUI conviction.

How We Help Our Clients Prepare for Court

Our office monitors every case closely to determine if and when an interlock installation is necessary. Well in advance of any court session, our office provides guidance to make sure that an interlock appointment is made in anticipation of an adverse finding by the court. This assures a smooth transition for the defendant and presents the best situation for the judge at any sentencing.

Defending a DWI Charge

The good news is that defending a DWI charge in the virtual world remains unchanged. Experience counts. Your attorney should command a broad knowledge of the DWI laws, the Alcotest device, standardized field sobriety tests, and constitutional law regarding traffic stops. As with any case, virtual or non-virtual, it is up-to-date knowledge on these topics that allows for the best defense possible. Chris Baxter’s Office prides itself in remaining current on all case law, teaching other attorneys case law, and understanding the technology associated with a DWI prosecution. Mr. Baxter’s 11 years as a municipal prosecutor help guide his defense strategy.

If there is a trial, there remains the question of whether the trial will be in-person or virtual. We object and will continue to object to any virtual trials as it strips the defendant of the opportunity to present the best defense and confront witnesses personally as the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution allows.

If you’ve been charged with a DWI recently and you’re seeking counsel, give us a call for a free consultation. We would be glad to discuss your case.