One of the most common New Jersey municipal court violations is talking or texting on a hand held device while driving (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.3). Over one million crashes have been blamed on hand-held cell phone usage in New Jersey alone over the last decade, 750,000 of which occurred since 2009. Yet despite those grave statistics, many accused violators are surprised by the stiffness of the potential penalties… __________
Fines, Court Costs, Points and License Suspension New Jersey first banned cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle back in 2004. In 2008, the state moved to make it a primary offense, meaning that you could be pulled over and cited for no other violation OTHER than a cell phone violation. Then, on July 1, 2014, New Jersey decided to create first, second and third (or subsequent) offense tiers with significantly-elevated, serious potential consequences for violators of the cell phone law. The corresponding fines are hefty:
First offense –> not less than $200, or more than $400, plus court costs
Second offense –> not less than $400, or more than $600, plus court costs
Third or subsequent offense –> not less than $600, or more than $800, plus court costs AND three points on your license.
Even more dramatic? Granting discretion to municipal court judges to suspend driver's licenses for up to 90 days for third or subsequent cell phone violations. So when someone asks me, as a New Jersey municipal court attorney, whether he or she needs representation for a cell phone ticket, my first response is usually “are you familiar with the penalties?” For example, a third ticket could cost you almost $900 right off the bat in addition to higher auto insurance premiums due to the points AND three months without the ability to drive for work, social reasons, picking up your children or running to Wawa for milk… __________ Violations Extend Beyond Texting A popular misconception among New Jersey Municipal Court defendants? That only texting or talking on a cell phone is a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.3. Not even close! Let's look at the statute's actual wording: The use of a wireless telephone or electronic communication device by an operator of a moving motor vehicle on a public road or highway shall be unlawful except when the telephone is a hands-free wireless telephone or the electronic communication device is used hands-free, provided that its placement does not interfere with the operation of federally required safety equipment and the operator exercises a high degree of caution in the operation of the motor vehicle. For the purposes of this section, an “electronic communication device” shall not include an amateur radio.” The key phrases are “use of a wireless… device by an operator of a moving motor vehicle” and “on a public road or highway.” You don't need to be talking to texting to get a ticket. Simply picking up your phone to check a GPS map or the time is, in fact, a violation if you're caught by a local or state police officer. Picking up your phone to activate the bluetooth feature is also potentially a violation. Soon, if certain New Jersey legislators get their way, texting while stopped at red lights will ALSO be a violation… __________
Possible Defenses: We Can Help You! New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), formally known as the “DMV,” provides some guidance on its website regarding possible defenses: Although it is discouraged, drivers may use a hands-free device if it does not interfere with standard safety equipment. “Use” of a wireless phone and any other hand-held communication device includes, but is not limited to, talking or listening to another person, texting, or sending and receiving electronic messages. A hand-held phone may be used for an emergency only and the driver must keep one hand on the wheel at all times.” Those exceptions are narrow but important. If, for example, the police officer who stopped and ticketed you says you were on your telephone but you were not, obtaining a copy of your cell phone bill may permit your attorney to corroborate your story. Cross-examining the officer as to his or her ability to see inside your car may also play a role in your defense. And those defenses are only the tip of the iceberg. The good news? Experienced and compassionate assistance is only a phone call away when your license (or your liberty) are on the line. Our firm's attorneys represent those charged with crimes and traffic offenses throughout New Jersey on a daily basis. If you or a loved one needs strong representation in a municipal court in New Jersey, contact the defense lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele today. We are here to defend the charges against you especially those relating to cell phone usage, suspended licenses and offenses which add points to your driver's license. Contact us now for your confidential and free initial consultation (just not while you're driving without a hand-held device!). You can also reach us by telephone (856) 546-1350. Don't just plead guilty and risk your driving privilege or driving record! __________