Newark, NJ- Have you ever forgotten to fasten your seat belt? Or, just refused to wear it? Do you let your passengers to get away without wearing their seat belts? All states have laws requiring motorists to wear seat belts whether they are in the driver’s seat or a passenger, and it is important to be aware of these laws if you travel between states. Concerns regarding this has lead to a rise in searches online such as “best online traffic school california“, or “driving school refresher course”, but in New Jersey the law states that a seat belt is mandatory. Violating New Jersey’s Mandatory Seat Belt Rule is generally only cause for a traffic summons. That has changed, though, now that the Supreme Court of New Jersey established that, depending on the circumstances, a seat belt violation can be considered a criminal offense.
In a unanimous decision handed down on September 18, 2014, the Supreme Court held that legislators intended the statutes pertaining to seat belt violations to have a “broad scope.” Justices ruled that individuals can have seat belt charges upgraded to a criminal offense when they cause an accident involving injury or death.
This is an important decision, one that could see more individuals with traffic violations facing criminal charges, making it even more necessary for a person to retain a New Jersey criminal attorney. My years of practicing law have taught me that no charge is minor. Even what is considered to be a minor traffic accident can affect a person’s life in many ways. I strive to give my clients my undivided attention and aggressive representation.
The case, State v. Kirby Lenihan (A-45-12) (071497), centered on a young woman who caused an accident that fatally injured one of her passengers. On August 10, 2007, Kirby Lenihan, 18, was driving in Hampton Township with another teen-aged girl who was only 16. It was a rainy night so the roads were slick, and Lenihan later admitted to “driving too fast” for road conditions considering her inexperience as a driver.
Neither Lenihan nor her passenger was wearing their seat belts and both suffered traumatic head injuries. Hours after the accident K.G. succumbed to her injuries.
Based on evidence collected at the scene, police suspected Lenihan and her passenger had been huffing prior to the accident. A subsequent blood test taken at the hospital showed she had 1-Difluoroethane in her system, thus confirming what police suspected.
Police charged Lenihan for failure to wear a seat belt, reckless driving and driving while intoxicated, according to the opinion. Later, a grand jury indicted Lenihan for second-degree vehicular homicide and second-degree violations of N.J.S.A. 2C:40-18, which criminalizes violation of any statute intended to protect the public health that results in serious bodily injury or death.
Lenihan agreed to a plea bargain in which she pleaded guilty to recklessly causing bodily injury and third-degree violation of public safety, and was given a 180-day jail sentence and 3 years’ probation. She was also granted the right to appeal the trial court’s denial to have her seat belt charges dismissed.
In her appeal, Lenihan’s attorney argued that New Jersey’s Public Safety Statute was according to the opinion “unconstitutionally vague, ambiguous and overbroad,” insisting legislators did not intend for the law to be used to charge people with crimes for minor traffic violations.
The Appellate Division disagreed with Lenihan’s argument and focused on what legislators intended for the N.J.S.A. 2C:40-18 which is to protect the public at large. The court determined the trial judge was right to deny Lenhan’s motion to dismiss and correctly considered all of the extenuating circumstances of her case.
Decisions like this set precedents and dictate how the law is applied in the future. This means that to discourage reckless driving, prosecutors across the state could use this decision to upgrade any traffic violation tied to an injurious accident to a criminal offense. Here in Washington, the traffic laws aren’t very strict. But what happens if you’re reckless driving in Richmond VA? This would make things very complicated as they have a zero-tolerance for traffic violations.
If you are facing a traffic violation and/ or a criminal offense contact my Newark office to talk about how I can give you the opportunity to avoid harsh penalties and all the other negative aspects of a traffic violation or criminal conviction.