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Proposed Change to New Jersey DUI Laws—On Whose Authority?

December 4, 2014

A proposed New Jersey DUI law would increase the penalties for drivers stopped for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs who have a child passenger. The proposal comes from Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee chairman Charles Mainor, who was also a former Jersey City police detective. Mr. Mainor hopes the law, if passed, would increase awareness of traffic accidents that include children in the vehicle. Mr. Mainor shares his concern about “parents (who) drink too much and then get behind the wheel. It happens more than you might guess.”

Currently, as the article says that when a parent or guardian is convicted of drunken driving with a child passenger, that person is “guilty of a disorderly persons offense punishable by a thousand dollar fine and up to six months in jail.” The new law would see fines increased to up to $15,000 and imprisonment jump up to 5 years.

So, why not push for laws that increase fines and jail times across the board? Why pick this one subset of the DUI offenses?

The short answer: the public’s support for causes protecting children from harm is typically free from controversy and enjoys good legislative backing. The thinking goes, if this law can help more kids from being injured in traffic accidents then who could deny its value?

But if the question of “why” has more to do with the state’s authority to impose stronger penalties, then that answer is a little longer.

The Long Answer

The state’s authority to impose criminal penalties is based on the federal and state’s police power. Through the 10th Amendment, the states have vested powers to regulate the “promotion and maintenance of the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the public,” (from Encyclopedia Britannica definition). When lawmakers enact rules that would take an individual’s property or freedom, including fines and jail time, the authority to do so comes from the overt intent to protect society.

In this way, penalties such as assessing higher fines and jail times for parents who drive intoxicated with their kids in the car, makes sense for the reasons stated in the “short answer” above.

If you are facing a DUI or other criminal charge, an experienced criminal defense attorney presents evidence of the facts from the same perspective of preserving the good of society. That is why DUI attorneys spend time discussing all aspects of a person’s life, not just what happened in one moment in time. We are here to speak with you about any criminal charge you may face.

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