The New Jersey State Senate is considering a bill to alter the penalties for first time drunk drivers. One wold expect it would increase the penalties as a way to demonstrate they’re “tough on crime”.
This is not the case.
The proposed law would drastically reduce the license suspension to 10 days but require the individual to install an ignition interlock on their car for three to seven months.
An ignition interlock is a device installed on the vehicle which requires the operator to blow into it before the car can be started. If there is any alcohol, the car will not start.
The knee-jerk reaction to this law is it gives drunk drivers a pass. Is the Legislature crazy? Surprisingly, no.
The proposed law is supported by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. The statistics seem to support it. Twenty-four states have enacted similar legislation and most have had their DUI deaths reduced. If you think about it, a suspension is a measure that depends on the good faith of the convicted individual. The interlock device, on the other hands, precludes operation of that vehicle. I recognize it won’t completely stop the operation of a different vehicle, but it will stop the operation of that vehicle.
I’m a Mount Holly attorney and I represent those accused of crimes and DUI. It seems self-serving for me to suggest the above is a good thing. It’s actually the opposite. If you reduce the penalties, you reduce the incentive to hire a Mount Holly attorney. You also may say the first sentence of this paragraph is redundant. DUI is a crime, isn’t it? Not in the state of New Jersey. DUI is a motor vehicle offense. It doesn’t matter if it is your first or tenth, it is a motor vehicle violation. Your maximum and mandatory period of incarceration for a third, fourth or fifteenth DUI is 180 days.
In my view it’s because it permits DUI cases to be handled in the municipal courts. It’s faster and cheaper to resolve them in those courts than in the Superior Court where crimes are dealt with and charged individuals are entitled to jury trials.
Most States treat DUI as a crime and give you the rights of those charged with a crime. That system gives you the right to test your case before twelve citizens (the jury) and not a single municipal court judge. Most municipal court judges work really hard and try to do the right thing but time poses a problem and the volume of cases they deal with make it extremely difficult to conduct lengthy trials.
My view? It’s time we took DUI cases out of the municipal courts even if the pressures and costs of doing so will make it challenging.