New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is contemplating a proposed bill that would significantly change the mandatory penalties for DWI offenses in the State of New Jersey.
The bill arrived at Christie’s desk after the New Jersey State Senate passed it by a margin of 29 to 4. The New Jersey State Assembly previously passed the legislation in June 2014.
If the proposed bill is officially enacted into law, first-time DWI offenders would no longer face mandatory suspension of their drivers’ licenses for 3–7 months. Instead, the mandatory suspension period would be just 10 days.
However, the bill would enhance the penalties for DWI offenses in one major way: it would require anyone convicted of a first offense DWI in New Jersey to install ignition interlock devices on their primary vehicles. Under current NJ DWI law, only first-time offenders with significantly high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) above .15 percent are required to install the breath testing devices.
As set forth by the proposed legislation, anyone convicted of driving with a BAC of .08 percent to .10 percent would have to install the ignition interlock device for 3 months. Anyone convicted of driving with a BAC of .10 percent to .15 percent would need to install the ignition interlock device for up to 1 year.
Ignition interlock devices are designed to prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars. In order to start the vehicle, the driver must first register a clean breath sample. This is crucial for preventing DWI and DUI accidents because many drivers with suspended licenses are still able to drive on NJ roadways under the current system. Nicholas Scutari, a state senator and municipal prosecutor, said he has prosecuted DWI offenders who were suspended for drunk driving; many of these individuals then “walked out to their car and drove home.”
The proposed bill has received support from several organizations, including New Jersey Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). According to MADD, 24 states already have similar laws on the books. Beyond that, the laws in Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oregon have reportedly led to a 30 percent decrease in drunk driving-related deaths. That’s one reason that the director of the New Jersey MADD group recently declared about the bill, “The long and short of it is it’s going to save lives.”
However, the bill still has at least a few opponents. Dan Phillips, the legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, testified in front of the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee and said that the proposed bill is flawed because it only requires installation of the breath testing devices on a DWI offender’s primary vehicle, not any of the offender’s secondary vehicles.
Additionally, Phillips testified that the proposed law could inadvertently result in a massive court clog because it would force judges to “go through a long analysis” in order to resolve DWI cases.
Governor Christie will have to consider both the positives and the negatives of the proposed legislation before making his decision. Christie will have a total of 45 days to take action one way or the other.
For additional information about the DWI bill, access the NJ.com article entitled “Major Changes to N.J. Drunk Driving Law Reach Christie’s Desk.”