On February 23, 2024, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued an Order that will have an immediate and substantial effect on cases involving certain DWI offenses. The Order was made in response to the New Jersey Legislature’s newly enacted law regarding drunk driving offenses. In a twelve-page Order, Chief Justice Rabner withdrew the 1990 Court Rule, “Guideline 4”, which expressly prohibited plea agreements in DWI cases. As a result of this Court Order, and the new statutory language within NJSA 39:4-50, individuals subject to certain DWI offenses can now negotiate plea agreements, thereby potentially lessening their charges.

The New Law

In 2022, the New Jersey Legislature introduced Bill S-3011, which pertains to the use of ignition interlock devices (“IID”) in drunk driving cases. The bill was approved and ultimately signed on December 21, 2023.  Among other things, this new law authorized plea agreements in offenses issued for a DWI or a “refusal to submit to a breathalyzer”. Specifically, the Bill added language to New Jersey’s DWI statute, NJSA 39:4-50, which stated: “Notwithstanding any judicial directive to the contrary, upon recommendation by the prosecutor, a plea agreement under this section is authorized under the appropriate factual basis” (emphasis added).

Why was this new law controversial?

Bill S-3011 raised controversy because it contained language that was in direct conflict with the New Jersey Supreme Court’s longstanding 1990 Court Rule “Guideline 4,” which expressly prohibited plea agreements in certain DWI cases.[1] Dating back to 1974, all plea bargaining in municipal court cases was prohibited due to legitimate concerns of potential abuse with the disposition of municipal court offenses. See State v. Hessen, 145 N.J. 441, 446-47 (1996). Approximately 15 years later, this ban was generally lifted, and plea agreements were then permitted in municipal courts. However, plea bargaining in drunk driving cases were still prohibited.  In 1990, the New Jersey Supreme Court approved “Guideline 4” to Court Rule 7:4-8, which solidified that plea bargaining in drunk driving cases was prohibited.

Several years later, in 1996, in State v. Hessen, 145 NJ 441 (1996), the Supreme Court of New Jersey was tasked with addressing the constitutionality of this prohibition on plea agreements, namely, whether the ban on plea negotiations in drunk driving cases impermissibly infringed on the separation of powers provision of the New Jersey State Constitution.  Broadly speaking, one of the fundamental principles of a democratic society is to ensure that there is the separation of powers, such that the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government do not infringe on each other’s powers. Ultimately, the Hessen court found that the ban on plea-bargaining in drunk driving cases was a constitutional exercise of the judiciary’s power to regulate the administration of criminal court cases.[2] As a result, Guideline 4 was upheld. Therefore, ever since that ruling back in 1996 until recently, the central underpinning behind Guideline 4 has been in full force and effect.

The February 23, 2023, New Jersey Supreme Court Order Changes all this!

In response to the passing of Bill S-3011, which explicitly allowed plea agreements in DWI cases, the Supreme Court of New Jersey withdrew Guideline 4. In its Order, the Supreme Court addressed how, historically, plea agreements have consistently been banned in drunk driving cases. Yet, despite this longstanding prohibition, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the New Jersey Legislature has a legitimate policy interest related to plea bargaining in municipal courts. To reconcile both competing viewpoints, the Supreme Court stated that: “The public interest is better served by collaboration among the coordinate branches of government.”  Therefore, “in the interest of comity” the Supreme Court adopted the statement of policy behind the New Jersey State Legislature’s amendment to NJSA 39:4-50 and withdrew Guideline 4.  By doing so, it avoided the proverbial “showdown” that would have ensued between the Supreme Court and the legislature.


This is an important development in the law. As a result of the Supreme Court’s withdrawal of Guideline 4, if you are now charged with certain DWI offenses, it IS now possible to negotiate a plea agreement you’re your DWI charges. This is a substantial change in the law related to DWI offenses, as the longstanding prior law, Guideline 4, expressly prohibited municipal courts from engaging in plea agreements for these specific types of cases.

Above all, make sure you’ve hired the right attorney for such an important issue:

If you are looking for guidance and strong legal representation on DWI cases, Mark Goldstein Esq. and the firm’s other experienced DWI attorneys at Goldstein Law Group stand ready to help you and put you more at ease, while also ensuring that your rights are protected and an appropriate case is presented to the prosecutor on your behalf to pursue a potential plea of your DWI offense. The mere fact that a plea agreement is now permissible in a DWI case, please don’t think they are handed out like candy!  An experienced  DWI attorney must still prepare and present an appropriate defense on your behalf and point out the potential weaknesses and flaws in the prosecution’s case in order to induce the prosecutor to make and accept a potential plea agreement to an alternate, lesser charge.  Please call us at 732-967-6777 for a phone or video conference consultation.   Our firm handles New Jersey DWI cases in Monmouth County, Middlesex County, Ocean County, Somerset County, Essex County, Union County, Bergen County, Hudson County, Burlington County and all counties throughout the State.

[1] “No plea agreements whatsoever will be allowed in drunken driving or certain drug offenses. Those offenses are:

  1. Driving while under the influence of liquor or drugs (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50) . . .

No plea agreements will be allowed in which a defendant charged for a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10% or higher seeks to plead guilty and be sentenced under section a(1)(i) of that statute (blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher, but less than 0.10%)…”




[2] See page 5, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/


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