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Careless Driving: Incarceration has its Limits

Posted by Greg DeMichele | Jun 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

Defendant Avoids Jail Time for Careless Driving Conviction

Recently, in State of New Jersey v. Diana M. Palma, the Appellate Division ruled that the Defendant's incarceration for careless driving conviction was improper and remanded the case back to the trial court for resentencing.  In this case, the defendant plead guilty to N.J.S.A. 39:4-97 (Careless Driving) and was sentenced to a fifteen day jail term, a suspension of driving privileges for ninety days, as well as fines and court costs.  The Appellate Division ruled that, although the facts in this case were tragic, the sentence did not comply with the law. In this case the Defendant stopped at a red light at an intersection and then made a left turn.  Unbeknownst to the Defendant, while making the left hand turn, she hit a pedestrian and proceeded to drag the pedestrian, who was lodged underneath her car, a significant distance.  Ultimately the victim died of injuries incurred in the accident. The Defendant voluntarily submitted to a blood test, which revealed she was not using intoxicating substances. Defendant also voluntarily produced her cellular phone records, which showed   that she was not using her cell phone at the time of the accident.  The state failed to produce any evidence that the defendant intentionally struck the pedestrian.    The Court also noted that there was no credible evidence defendant had run the traffic signal, exceeded the speed limit, or had acted recklessly.   Based on those facts, the defendant plead guilty to careless driving.  The judge sentenced to a fifteen day jail term, a suspension of driving privileges for ninety days, as well as fines and court costs. In order for a trail judge to incarcerate a defendant for a conviction of a “petty offence” such as careless driving the following factors should be considered when determining whether to impose a license suspension:

  1. The nature and circumstances of the defendant's conduct, including whether the conduct posed a high risk of danger to the public or caused physical harm or property damage;
  2. The defendant's driving record, including the defendant's age and length of time as a licensed driver, and the number, seriousness, and frequency of prior infractions;
  3. Whether the defendant was infraction-free for a substantial period before the most recent violation or whether the nature and extent of the defendant's driving record indicates that there is a substantial risk that he or she will commit another violation;
  4. Whether the character and attitude of the defendant indicate that he or she is likely or unlikely to commit another violation; whether the defendant's conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur;
  5. Whether a license suspension would cause excessive hardship to the defendant and/or dependents;
  6. The need for personal deterrence; and
  7. Any other relevant factor clearly identified by the court may be considered as well.

The Appellate Division noted that the Defendant plead guilty to a much less serious offense then DUI or Reckless Driving and went on to state that motor vehicle violations such as careless driving are not “crimes,” but rather “petty offenses”. In this case the trial court's sentence was found to be improper because the factors were not properly applied to the sentence.  Specifically, the trial court did not articulate sufficient aggravating circumstances.  The trail court's decision did not include facts that the Defendant demonstrated a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. If you or a loved one have been charged with careless driving in New Jersey, you need experienced municipal court representation to protect your rights and fight for a “best case” outcome.  Contact us online today or call us at  (856)546-1350 to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our experienced New Jersey municipal court attorneys.

About the Author

Greg DeMichele

Gregory P. DeMichele is a seasoned litigator, devoting the majority of his practice to municipal court, personal injury, residential real estate, and family law matters. Greg has helped countless clients navigate challenging cases in municipal, Superior Court, and Appellate Court proceedings.

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