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State of New Jersey v. Charles M. Mcallister


January 6, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 08-08-1826.

Per curiam.


Submitted November 30, 2010

Before Judges Carchman and Messano.

Defendant Charles McAllister was indicted by the Monmouth County grand jury and charged with a single count of third-degree assault by auto, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c)(2). After his application to the Pre-Trial Intervention Program was rejected, and his appeal of the rejection was denied, defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement. In return for defendant's guilty plea to the indictment and a motor vehicle summons charging him with driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, the State agreed to recommend: probation, conditioned on defendant serving 364 days in the county jail; the imposition of the mandatory fines and penalties pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50; and the dismissal of other disorderly persons and motor vehicle summonses. Pursuant to Rule 3:9-3(c), the judge was apprised of the plea negotiations and indicated, by way of a supplemental plea form, that he would impose a sentence of "non-custodial probation."

During the plea allocution, defendant acknowledged under oath that he struck the victim while driving his car under the influence of marijuana and that she was "seriously injured."*fn1 The judge advised, and defendant acknowledged, that pursuant to the DWI conviction, the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) "would do an evaluation," defendant's driver's license would be suspended, and various financial penalties imposed.

Defendant was disabled prior to the accident and was receiving Social Security disability benefits. At sentencing, defense counsel noted defendant had suffered significant physical injuries in the accident, including two broken arms that were repaired with "metal bars," two fractured legs, a fractured left ankle, and nerve damage to his right arm. As a result, defendant did "not have any use of his arms." Counsel urged the judge not to impose the twelve-hour IDRC detention period, or, alternatively, stay that portion of the sentence so that he could file "a motion." The judge concluded that the IDRC detention was mandatory but stayed imposition so that defendant could file a formal motion.

Defendant moved for relief pursuant to Rule 3:21-10, arguing that the "interest[s] of justice" permitted the judge to "change or reduce a sentence." In his brief, defendant noted that as a result of the accident, he no longer had the use of his arms, could no longer write his name, feed himself, or use the restroom alone. Defendant claimed that he would be unable to participate in the activities at the IDRC because of his physical limitations, and his wife, who had become his primary caregiver and might otherwise assist, was "the only person . . . employed in the household." Defendant also contended that because it was "unlikely that [he] w[ould] ever be able to operate a motor vehicle . . . again," he was "not within the class of persons the Legislature intended to benefit from the IDRC."

In his oral opinion, the judge noted that although "presently defendant [wa]s unable to write or have any functional use of his . . . hands or of the lower arm," "there [was] no medical proofs submitted . . . that . . . [d]efendant will never have the use of his arms." The judge also noted that it was "not clear from th[e] record what accommodations the [d]efendant could be afforded in attending the program . . . ." Additionally, the judge concluded that the imposition of a twelve-hour period of detention at an appropriate IDRC was mandatory pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. He denied defendant's motion for reconsideration and modification of the sentence but entered "a stay of the IDRC requirement pending appeal."

Before us, defendant argues in a single point heading,


We have considered this contention in light of the record and applicable legal precedent. We affirm.

This was defendant's first DWI conviction. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(1)(ii), first offenders "shall be subject" to, among other things, "a period of detainment of not less than 12 hours nor more than 48 hours spent during two consecutive days of not less than six hours each day and served as prescribed by the program requirements of the [IDRC] . . . ." Every person so convicted "must satisfy the screening, evaluation, referral, program and fee requirements" of the IDRC. N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(b). We have said in the context of a DWI sentence, "[w]hen the Legislature imposes minimum penalties for certain offenses, the judiciary must enforce that mandate." State v. Nicolai, 287 N.J. Super. 528, 531 (App. Div. 1996) (citations omitted). Defendant does not dispute that the sentence to twelve hours of detention in an IDRC is mandatory; rather, he claims it is unconstitutional because, as applied to him, it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. See U.S. Const. amends. VIII, XIV; N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 12.

Initially, we note that this constitutional argument was never raised before the Law Division judge. It is, therefore, not appropriately before us. See Nieder v. Royal Indem. Ins. Co., 62 N.J. 229, 234 (1973) (noting the "well-settled principle that . . . appellate courts will decline to consider questions or issues not properly presented to the trial court") (quotation omitted).

Nevertheless, on the record presented, we reject, on its merits, defendant's argument that the mandatory period of detention at an IDRC, as applied to him, violates the Federal and State Constitutions. We set forth the standard applicable to such a claim in State v. Trippiedi, 204 N.J. Super. 422 (App. Div. 1985).

Under the Eighth Amendment a penalty is deemed to be cruel and unusual punishment only if it (1) makes no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment and hence is nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering; or (2) is grossly out of proportion to the severity of the crime. Under our State Constitution the inquiry is . . . whether the nature of the criticized punishment shocks the general conscience and violates principles of fundamental fairness; whether comparison shows the punishment to be grossly disproportionate to the offense; and whether the punishment goes beyond what is necessary to accomplish any legitimate penal aim. [Id. at 427 (quotations omitted).]

"The showing that must be made to sustain the claim is substantial." Ibid. (quoting State v. Des Marets, 92 N.J. 62, 82 (1983)).

In Trippiedi, supra, 204 N.J. Super. at 427-28, we rejected the defendant's "as applied" cruel and unusual punishment claim regarding a mandatory period of incarceration under the Graves Act. We noted that defendant's serious heart ailment had not worsened since his incarceration, and that the medical facilities at the prison could adequately attend to his condition. Ibid.

Absent a showing that incarceration is having a devastating impact on defendant's health, we conclude that the Graves Act sentence does not represent "purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering." Similarly, the term of parole ineligibility in the circumstances does not shock "the general conscience and violate[s] principles of fundamental fairness." The sentence clearly does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment. [Id. at 428.]

As the Law Division judge noted in this case, defendant produced no medical proofs regarding his prognosis. Moreover, we cannot conclude that the intended benefits of the IDRC program, i.e., "alcohol and drug education and highway safety," N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(f), are not legitimate sentencing objectives even if defendant never operates a motor vehicle again.

Defendant also failed to demonstrate that the IDRC is unable to accommodate his physical disabilities, or, alternatively, that his wife cannot accompany him to the detention. While we recognize this might necessitate her loss of time from work, that inconvenience is not a violation of defendant's constitutional rights.


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