New Jersey DUI Bill

DUI Child Endangerment

The reach of laws against DUI in New Jersey stretches further every few years, and legislators are always eager to show their constituents that they are tough on crime. Proposed enhancements often involve the driver’s blood-alcohol content, increased fines or consequences such as ignition interlock devices.

One aspect of New Jersey drunk driving laws that many drivers may not be aware of is the potential for increased DWI consequences due to the presence of a child in the car when a driver is arrested. New Jersey’s Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation statute has long included an additional disorderly persons offense that can be imposed on a driver who is convicted of driving while intoxicated with a minor passenger (17 or younger) in the car. Drunk driving laws that involve child endangerment are also on the books in all but nine other states.

Seeking to Enhance Criminal Liability for DWI Child Endangerment

A bill currently before the New Jersey Assembly would increase penalties for DUI child endangerment under some circumstances. Currently, the disorderly persons offense specifically provides that a convicted driver “shall forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of not more than six months and shall be ordered to perform community service for a period of not more than five days.” A disorderly persons offender is also susceptible to as much as six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Assembly bill 2546 would elevate drunk driving with a minor as a passenger to an indictable offense if the violation results in an accident that causes “serious bodily injury or bodily injury to the minor.” Any bodily injury, defined loosely as physical pain, illness or physical impairment, could lead to prosecution for a crime in the fourth degree, punishable by imprisonment up to 18 months, a fine as high as $10,000, or both.

Under the new NJ DUI law, a serious bodily injury to a minor passenger would elevate the offense to a third degree crime, punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine as high as $15,000. The bill defines serious bodily injury as an injury “which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”

New Jersey DUI/DWI Defense Attorneys Protect the Interests and Rights of Accused Drivers

No action has occurred on the bill proposing changes to New Jersey’s DUI child endangerment law since it was referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. But the national trend in imposing more severe consequences for drunk driving if a child passenger suffers injury suggests that it could ultimately succeed in a future legislative session.

The many serious consequences of intoxicated driving accusations and charges already underscore the importance of working with an experienced and aggressive New Jersey criminal defense lawyer. Not only can a DUI lead to license suspension, jail time, community service and a host of fees, fines and surcharges – a drunk driving conviction will result in higher insurance rates, a black mark on a driver’s record and incalculable damage to a hard-earned reputation or career.

Like the proposed elevation of DUI child endangerment to a felony offense, all complex amendments to existing law introduce new elements of proof into the criminal justice process. Whether a case involvesquestions of Breathalyzer accuracy, implied consent, administration of field sobriety tests or other legal issues, an experienced NJ drunk driving defense lawyer can be an indispensable ally in helping a client assert and protect his or her legal rights.

Awareness of changing legal standards and emerging caselaw developments is a hallmark of good legal representation of any client accused of a criminal offense, from vehicular homicide to New Jersey traffic offenses and every area in between. Swift and effective criminal defense depends on comprehensive knowledge of evidence standards, constitutional rights and alternatives to incarceration backed by strong research skills and perseverance.

As DUI laws evolve, criminal defense lawyers must be prepared to advise clients with every potential legal outcome in mind, from early dismissal or reduction of charges to plea bargaining and preparing sound arguments regarding the severity of sentencing. Call us today at (908) 561-5577 or contact us online.  Your initial consultation is free.