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State v. Lach

Decided: November 6, 1986.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STANLEY LACH, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Sussex County.

Michels and Landau.

Per Curiam

The State here appeals an order of the Law Division which dismissed two municipal summonses for operating a motor vehicle while on the suspended list, on grounds that the trial court failed to provide the defendant with the opportunity to apply for court-appointed counsel based on a showing of indigency.

Defendant, Stanley Lach (Lach) appeared pro se throughout the convoluted procedural history of these cases. Although served with notice of the State's appeal, he failed to file a timely answering brief, and an order was entered precluding such filing.

The State urges that the defendant knowingly waived his right to be represented by an attorney and alternatively, should it be found that he did not knowingly waive such right, the complaints should be remanded for trial with appropriate representation.

We affirm the Law Division's finding that the record was inadequate to disclose a knowing waiver of counsel. We reverse the order of dismissal, and remand.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Lach received two summonses in Newton on February 1, 1984. The first charged driving while on the suspended list in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-40, and the second charged him with operating a vehicle without insurance in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2.

On February 3, 1984 he received another summons in Newton for driving while on the suspended list.

After a number of delays, partly arising out of Lach's request for time to secure counsel and partly by reason of State witness unavailability, all three cases were heard on July 17, 1984 in the Municipal Court of Newton. A motion for dismissal for failure to provide a speedy trial was rejected.

Lach contended in subsequent proceedings that he was not advised that the court would consider appointing counsel until he received a letter several days following the hearing in Newton. Lach was found guilty and fines aggregating $2,350 were imposed, together with a one-day jail sentence and an 18 month revocation of license.

Defendant appealed to the Law Division pursuant to R. 3:23. There the court entered an order which found defendant guilty of the substantive offenses but remanded for a hearing limited to the question of whether defendant had been advised of his right to an attorney prior to trial. The Municipal Court of Newton sent Lach a letter which set a hearing for November 13, 1984, and asked Lach to appear and confirm his willingness to proceed to trial without legal counsel. For reasons which are not clear, the Law Division judge meanwhile transferred the Lach cases to his assignment judge, who directed that there should be a new trial on all three summonses. With the consent of the Prosecutor of Sussex County, the matters were ...


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