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Having an Auto Accident While Texting Could Result in Jail Time For a 3rd Degree Offense


Interviewer: If someone were to get into an accident and were to injure someone else, what sort of penalties could he be facing If texting was the reason behind that?

James Abate: I think that they’re going to be looking at a lawsuit, first of all. They could be looking at vehicular assault charges. I think that it could rise to that level, and they could be looking at an indictable crime in the superior court, and they could be looking at going to jail on a third-degree offense, or five to ten years if somebody was seriously hurt and it was the result of texting.

Legislation Has Not Been Made Regarding Usage of Car Stereo Systems While Driving in New Jersey

Interviewer: People are always looking for music. How’s that going to be treated?

James Abate: I think that’s a really good question, because if you’re permitted to operate your phone in order to pull up your … Now, if the MP3 is connected to your stereo system-

I think that is going to be a gray area. As I said, there is a case which says that If you have to operate a button or two to make something happen, and then listen to it through your sound system, so I think that’s something which a police officer will try to charge, a fast-thinking lawyer will try to argue that it’s not covered under the statute, and eventually it will get sorted out, but until then there will be no conviction. Cases like that are good. There’s a great loophole in there, because someone could say, “I was just changing the song on my MP3.”

A Distracted Driving Charge is Different from a Cell Phone Ticket. It’s Rarely Issued and Can Involve Anything

Interviewer: There are people that I’ve seen distracted just changing the knobs in the radio station, or when CDs were being mass-produced, people were changing Cds out of the CD player as well. I still use CDs, so I’m busting out a CD from a little book and throwing in a CD in there. What does that entail?

James Abate: It all comes down to distracted driving is a different charge. It’s one that’s rarely issued, and it can involve anything. It could be drinking a soda, it can be eating. Anything that’s going to significantly distract you from operating a vehicle, that is going to impair your ability to operate a vehicle.

When Issued a Cell Phone Ticket, It’s Going to be The Police’s Word against Yours

Interviewer: If someone has their phone there, it’s not a visual sight, Is it just going to go by the police officer’s word that they were texting?

James Abate: It’s like anything else. The police officer’s going to say, “I was watching the driver, I saw his eyes look down, he was looking at something. I then came to the … Pulled him over, came to the vehicle, and I saw in the seat next to him a cell phone.” It’s going to be the cop’s word. It’s going to be you versus the cop, and that’s not a good situation to be in.

Cell Phone Tickets were Perceived as a Secondary Offense But with Advanced Penalties, these Cases Have Increased Importance

Interviewer: Have you ever worked on cases like this before?

James Abate: Yes, and the thing is that these cases come up in our practice. Cell phone cases have not been as important as they’re about to get, because now you’re talking of suspensions, now you’re talking huge points, now you’re talking about major repercussions. The way these cases have come up until now is, somebody’s pulled over for a cell-phone violation and they find a dead body in the trunk, or they were intoxicated, or they found marijuana, or a knife or a gun in the car. That’s where they came up, where we were looking at the cell phone or the distracted-driving offenses in order to prevent probable cause from attaching, and the real penalties from kicking in. Now, a cell-phone ticket on its own it’s something which can really up-end your world.

A Cell Phone Ticket Entails a Mandatory Court Appearance Where You Must Face the Judge and the Prosecutor

Interviewer: It’s going to affect people just like a DUI is, and people are going to start acting like they’ve never done it before, like employers and whatnot.

James Abate: Again, you’re going to see there are people out there who’ve got one or two of these already on their record, and the first time they get pulled over under the new law, they’re going to go to court and have to find out that their license is getting suspended. Another thing I forgot to mention is that these tickets now, a cell-phone ticket is a mandatory court appearance. You cannot pay it automatically. You must go to court. You must face the judge, you must face the prosecutor. Honestly, that’s like adding a penalty of losing a morning at the least.

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