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State of New Jersey v. Lee Blumetti

January 9, 2012


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Municipal Appeal No. 4731.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 21, 2011

Before Judges Fuentes and Harris.

Defendant Lee Blumetti, a thrice-convicted drunk driver, was erroneously sentenced by the Hawthorne municipal court as a second offender to a two-year loss of her driving privileges. Almost twenty months into the service of that sanction the State detected the court's sentencing gaffe and sought to impose the mandatory minimum driver's license suspension of ten years pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(3).*fn1 Blumetti appeals from the Law Division's judgment that implemented the State's request. We affirm.

The facts are not in dispute. In September 1986, Blumetti was convicted of drunk driving in Seaside Heights. At that time, she was not counseled by an attorney. Thereafter, in October 2000, Blumetti was once again convicted of drunk driving in Wayne, which was likewise uncounseled. Finally, on February 6, 2006, in Hawthorne, Blumetti pled guilty to, and was convicted a third time of, drunk driving, but had the assistance of defense counsel at the proceeding.

Blumetti concedes that in Hawthorne she should have been sentenced as a third-time offender, pursuant to State v. Burroughs, 349 N.J. Super. 225 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 174 N.J. 43 (2002).*fn2 However, for reasons that are not readily apparent from the record, the Hawthorne municipal judge stated, "I'll sentence her as a second offender, but for purposes of incarceration I'll sentence her as a first offender, because [of State v. Laurick, 120 N.J. 1, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 967, 111 S. Ct. 429, 112 L. Ed. 2d 413 (1990),)]."*fn3 Along with several other punishments, the judge suspended Blumetti's driving privileges for two years, warning her that if convicted of a third offense, she would be "subject to a license revocation for ten years in addition to jail time. And now [she's] been represented by counsel so Laurick is not going to apply." Neither the State nor Blumetti appealed this conviction and sentence, and by all accounts Blumetti acceded to its terms and conditions.

Twenty months elapsed before the next event occurred in the matter. On October 12, 2007, a deputy attorney general in Trenton wrote a letter to an assistant Passaic County prosecutor indicating, "[i]t has come to our attention that the sentence imposed in [State v. Lee C. Blumetti] does not appear to comport with the prescribed sentencing options in the relevant statute."

The letter requested that the assistant prosecutor contact the local prosecutor in Hawthorne "to determine the reasons for this deviation."

Eleven days later, the assistant prosecutor wrote a letter to the Hawthorne prosecutor forwarding the deputy attorney general's correspondence and noting, "I presume they are wondering why the license suspension was for two, rather than ten, years."

Independent of these executive department exchanges, on November 2, 2007, the Hawthorne municipal court administrator wrote a letter directly to Blumetti, indicating that the administrator was advised by the Division of Motor Vehicles that there was an error in the disposition . . . on February 6, 2006. . . . According to [the Division of Motor Vehicle's] records, the offense . . . should have been considered a third offense rather than a second offence.

It will therefore be necessary for you to return to court so that this matter can be resolved.

The letter further advised Blumetti that the matter was being transferred to the Clifton municipal court because the current Hawthorne municipal court judge was the former prosecutor who participated in her February 6, 2006 plea arrangement. Accordingly, the hearing was scheduled for November 30, 2007.

On December 6, 2007, Blumetti's attorney objected to the proceedings by letter, arguing that the municipal court's exercise of jurisdiction over his client was improper, notwithstanding recognizing that "perhaps Ms. Blumetti was sentenced incorrectly." The Clifton municipal prosecutor responded on December 17, 2007, with what the record describes as "a formal notice of motion to amend an illegal ...

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