Assembly Panel Ok’s Bill Toughening Penalties for Repeat DUI Offenses

An Assembly panel on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nelson Albano, Matthew Milam, Charles Mainor and John Burzichelli that would toughen the penalties for repeat DUI offenders.

The bill stems from the recent arrest of a Vineland man for his fifth DUI charge in as many weeks.

“One DUI arrest is too many, but five is unacceptable and clearly indicative of a greater problem,” said Albano (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “Anyone who repeatedly jeopardizes the safety of others should not be allowed to get right back on the road and do it again. This bill will help eliminate that possibility.”

The bill takes a tougher stance against repeat offenders by establishing criminal penalties for second and subsequent offenses of driving under the influence (DUI) when they occur within 60 days of the first offense. Currently, DUI is only considered a traffic offense under state statute.

“This legislation will make sure that our system works in favor of law abiding citizens by getting risks to the community off the street,” said Milam (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). “This is a long overdue and much-needed change.”

Specifically, the bill would permit the court to impose bail in an amount up to $10,000 and requires the court to suspend the person’s driver’s license when a person is charged with a second or subsequent DUI offense within 60 days of the first offense.

The bill would also require law enforcement officers to input summonses for DUI offenses into their system within three hours of the end of the officer’s shift to ensure that record-keeping is as up to date as possible.

“From a law enforcement perspective, this is a welcome measure that will enable us to deal with safety threats quickly and more efficiently,” said Mainor (D-Hudson), a detective with the Jersey City Police Department. “If you callously disregard your safety and the safety of others more than once, your driving privileges should be suspended immediately to eliminate this threat, not at some arbitrary date down the road.”

“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,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem).

Under the provisions of the bill, a person who is convicted of a second or subsequent DUI offense that occurred within 60 days of the first offense would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree in addition to any other penalties imposed for DUI or refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 18 months, or both.

Current law only allows the court to impose a higher bail when good cause is shown, but requires the court to place on the record its reasons for imposing bail in an amount exceeding $2,500. These bail limitations would not apply to persons who are charged with the offense created under this bill.

The measure was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. TLS.

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