A woman who was sentenced in Rumson municipal court to six months in prison for a DWI conviction won a curtailment of the sentence from the New Jersey Supreme Court Wednesday.
Through a series of appeals culminating at the state’s highest court, defendant Eileen Ciancaglini argued that the municipal court judge who heard the case was wrong to consider a prior conviction for refusing to take a breathalyzer test in imposing the sentence in 2008, and the Supreme Court agreed.
Ciancaglini, for whom no hometown was reported, was stopped by Rumson police for reckless driving on May 1, 2008, and consented to a breath test, which showed a 0.17 percent concentration of alcohol in her system, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication, according to the decision.
Ciancaglini had previously been convicted of DWI in 1979, and in 2006 was convicted of refusing to take a breathalyzer test. The court decision does not say where those cases where heard, and notes that no documentation was provided to indicate if Ciancaglini was acquitted of DWI or entered a plea deal on that charge in the 2006 case.
In September 2008, Ciancaglini pleaded guilty in Rumson court, and argued that she should be sentenced as a first-time offender because the earliest offense was more than a decade old and the more recent was not, in fact, a DWI conviction.
But the judge who heard the case, who is not identified in the decision, sentenced Ciancaglini as a
third-time offender. Along with fines and other penalties, Ciancaglini was given a six-month jail term, a ten-year license suspension, and a ten-year suspension of the registration on any vehicle that she owned.
Ciancaglini succeeded in an appeal to the Superior Court, which cut the incarceration portion of her to 30 days. The state appealed, and last year, an Appellate Division decision re-imposed the original penalties.
In its unanimous decision on Ciancaglini’s latest appeal, written by Judge (and temporary court member) Edwin Stern, the Supreme Court found that refusing to take a breathalyzer test does not constitute a prior conviction for purposes of determining a sentence. The court re-instated the 30-day sentence.
Here’s the decision as it appears on the state judiciary website: state-v-eileen-m-ciancaglini