New Jersey bills target drugged, drunken driving

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 9/26/2013

Two pieces of legislation under review at the New Jersey statehouse would make sure the punishment for drugged or drunken driving more closely fits the crime.

One bill would require anyone behind the wheel who is involved in a fatal wreck to provide a blood sample.

New Jersey law now requires police to determine probable cause before issuing a blood test.

Dubbed “Michelle’s Law,” the bill would do away with the probable cause requirement following wrecks that result in death. A4464 would deem drivers to have given consent to providing a blood sample to determine if they are under the influence of drugs. The same consent rule applies to drivers suspected of drunken driving.

“By requiring this form of sobriety test, this legislation would allow law enforcement to take direct action in a vehicle accident that causes the death of someone involved,” Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen/Passaic, said in a news release.

The bill is named for Michelle Sous. The 17-year-old was struck and killed by a car as she crossed the street. The driver of the vehicle that struck Michelle wasn’t tested for alcohol and drug influence.

“A car accident resulting in loss of life is reason enough to investigate the scene thoroughly,” stated Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen.

Anyone who refuses to consent to the blood test would face the same penalties as a person who refuses a breathalyzer test.

Another bill would hand down harsher penalties for repeat drunken driving offenders.

New Jersey law now limits punishment for affected offenders to a traffic offense. Bail typically is set at $2,500.

The traffic offense designation allows drivers charged with drunken driving to continue to drive while awaiting their court date.

A3057 would end that practice. Instead, the bill would boost punishment for a person convicted of driving under the influence two times or more within 60 days to a fourth-degree crime. Specifically, offenders would face up to 18 months in prison and/or up to $10,000 fines.

License suspensions would also result for repeat offenders. In addition, judges could impose bail of up to $10,000.

The bill follows a case in Vineland, NJ, where a man was arrested for drunken driving five times in five weeks while awaiting a court date for his initial infraction.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland, said the rule change would help address a problem that is unacceptable.

“Everyone can make a mistake, but when it’s done repeatedly, especially in a relatively close time frame, it’s clear that the person has a problem and should be dealt with quickly, both for their own sake and the safety of others,” Burzichelli previously stated.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey, click here.

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