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New Jersey Looking To Stiffen DUI Penalties

Date: December 17, 2014

This holiday season, New Jersey drivers who consume alcohol before driving a motor vehicle can get an unwanted gift from the state.

Under the legislation that was approved on 26th of June in the Assembly by a 46-15 vote, first-time DUI offenders could be ordered to install locks on their ignition systems that need a Breathalyzer-type test before their motor vehicle’s engine will start. Interlocking devices are currently used by individuals convicted of DUI many times and have to face harsher penalties.

First-time DUI offenders in New Jersey face a license suspension of 3 to 12 months under current law, depending on how high their BAC level is above the .08 percent legal limit. Second- and third-time DUI offenders can be ordered to use an interlocking ignition device and they need to participate in a mandatory alcohol awareness class.

According to the sponsor of the bill and a municipal prosecutor in Linden, State Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) said, blanket suspensions are ineffective. “I’ve seen people get sentenced to DWIs in my court over the years, then walk down the street, get in the car and leave,” says Scutari. “They are not being punished, they are risking a lot and the public is put at risk”.

First time DUI offenders would be permitted to keep their driver’s licenses under the proposed legislation, but would have to rent the ignition lock and have it reviewed monthly to check if they tried to start their vehicle while legally under the influence of alcohol.

State legislative affairs manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Frank Harris said, “An ignition interlock teaches a convicted drunk driver to drive sober, a suspended license does not”. According to him, between 50 and 75 percent of suspended drivers keep driving their motor vehicle.

He added, “States that have passed laws like this have seen significant reductions in drunk-driver fatalities. It allows [drivers] to continue to go to work, to continue to provide for their family, but at the same time protecting the public as they are not driving drunk”.

The number of individuals taken into custody for DUI is low in New Jersey. 26,521 were taken into custody for DUI in the years 2012, which decreased from 30,448 in 2007. Convictions also decreased over the same time period, from 25,212 to 22,760. According to an estimate by the lawyers, 15 to 25 percent of DUI arrests are for repeat DUI offenders.

Deaths related to DUI have also decreased as shown by data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT said that 28 percent of deadly crashes in New Jersey, or 164, happened due to driving under the influence of alcohol in 2012 which decreased from 31 percent, or 194, that happened in 2011.

There are many theories about why DUI arrests and deaths have decreased. It is possible due to the stiff penalties and increased awareness of the serious nature of the crime.

Victor Rotolo, a Hunterdon County lawyer who has represented DUI defendants as well as victims of DUI-related accident, said, “Less and less people are [driving drunk], it has to be. People get the message; the message is everywhere”.

The initial fine averages $650 along with a $3,000 surcharge, $100 license reinstatement, $100 counseling fee and if ordered to use an interlocking ignition device, an additional fee of almost $2.50 per day which a DUI offender has to face under the current law.

Other than that, lawyers’ fees can range from $1,000 to $6,000, and insurance rates can automatically increase several thousand dollars when a person is convicted, according to DUI experts. If there is a criminal act involved like a crash due to which a fatality, injury or damage happens, then thousands more dollars can be added through assessments and potential civil or criminal litigation.

A Teaneck attorney and MADD board member who represents DUI victims and was himself hit by a drunk driver 25 years back, Steven Benvenisti, supports the pending legislation. He said, “The 24 other states that have enacted all-offender ignition interlock registration have seen a reduction in fatalities on their roadways of up to 43 percent”.

News Source: NjMonthly.com


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About the Author

Attorney James A. Abate practices Criminal Defense, DWI Defense, Business Litigation, Real Estate & Personal injury cases in Union County, New Jersey.