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Governor vetoes New Jersey drunk driving bill

Efforts by New Jersey legislators to modify the state's drunk driving laws were dealt a blow on March 23 when Governor Chris Christie vetoed bill A1368. The bill would have reduced the length of the driving bans handed out to first time offenders and instead require them to have interlock ignition devices installed in their vehicles, but the measures were considered too sweeping and lenient by the governor.

The proposed law would have reduced the current three-month driver's license suspension to as little as 10 days for those convicted on a DUI charge for the first time. However, first-time offenders would also be required to have devices installed in their vehicles that would prevent them from starting if alcohol is detected. Current laws require only repeat offenders to have such devices installed. The governor is proposing that the interlocks be required without a corresponding reduction in license suspensions.

Proponents of the bill now face a decision. The goal of the legislation was to allow more judicial discretion in the sentencing of first-time drunk driving offenders, but they say that the governor's proposed changes would tie the hands of judges. The governor wants interlock devices to be mandated for between six and 18 months depending on a motorist's blood alcohol level. Christie also wants repeat offenders to be required to install interlock devices for up to four years on all vehicles registered to them.

Legislation that stiffens criminal penalties is often welcomed by voters, but this type of law may not always have the desired effect. Prosecutors work under heavy caseloads, and they often seek to reach plea agreements when the offense involved is not serious. Stiffer penalties could make a criminal defense attorney less likely to recommend a plea of guilty, and prosecutors may instead be compelled to reduce charges if they wish to avoid the delay and costs of taking a case to trial.

Source: NJ.com, "Attempt to change N.J.'s drunken driving law hits roadblock at Christie's desk", Matt Freidman, March 24, 2015

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