DUI is illegal, but it’s not a ‘crime’ … yet
Under current New Jersey law, driving-under-the-influence offenders face a maximum penalty of six months in jail, and they are eligible for pre-trial intervention — but one state lawmaker doesn’t think that goes far enough.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, is introducing a measure to make a third DUI offense a crime — not simply a motor vehicle offense. (What New Jersey law calls "crimes," most states call "felonies," and the term is sometimes used informally here. New Jersey also has disorderly persons offenses instead of misdemeanors.)
“You could serve as much as a year in prison,” Gusciora said. “When you have property damage or personal injury involved in an accident there should be more ramifications.”
He added, "If we really want to crack down on repeat offenders, which there are in the thousands, I think it’s more appropriate to make it a felony that would go to Superior Court. You’d have the expertise to follow through in an appropriate manner.”
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He said since DUIs are handled in part-time municipal court systems, with part-time prosecutors, prosecuting them can be problematic.
“When it gets to a 3rd DUI, they’re vigorously contested, especially when they hire attorneys because there’s so much at stake, that it over-burdens the municipal court,” he said.
A third DUI conviction brings, in addition to possible jail time, a loss of a driver license for 10 years.
Gusciora said that under his measure, “it would bring it up to the county prosecutor’s office where they have the expertise to follow through on proof.”
Gusciora said by handling these repeat drunk-driving cases in municipal court “it’s not really honoring those who are victims of DUIs, there are people who lose their lives, and there are people who are gravely injured because of a repeat offender.”
He also stressed Superior Court, rather than municipal court, is more appropriate to handle addiction issues.
Gusciora said often, at the municipal level, addiction issues are virtually ignored, so offenders “do their penalty, they serve their 180 days in jail, but then they get right back in the drivers seat despite a 10-year loss of license and often-times recommit and re-offend.”
He said New Jersey could learn from Pennsylvania — where a even first DUIs can in some cases be treated as felonies.
According to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, 20,017 drivers either pleaded guilty or were convicted of DUI on Garden State roadways last year.