Newark, NJ- If you’ve ever received a summons for a traffic violation, you probably anticipate a fine and points on your driver’s license. Instead of speaking with an attorney many people enter their plea, pay their ticket and move on. What you may not realize is that there are certain circumstances which can warrant a jail sentence for a traffic violation. You could be charged with a misdemeanor and need someone like Gary Rohlwing misdemeanor defense attorney to help you drop the charges. Prior to a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision what those exact circumstances are has been somewhat ambiguous and inconsistently applied.
In State vs. Diana M. Palma, handed down on September 30th, the high court clarified what aggravating circumstances should be considered when a judge is trying determining when a person convicted of a traffic violation should be given a jail sentence.
In their decision, justices established a jail sentence can be imposed on a traffic violation if aggravating circumstances exist surrounding the incident and other considerations such as the driver’s driving history are present. While the court’s ruling was handed down in a case involving careless driving, the guidelines could conceivably apply to other traffic violations if the sentencing standards are met.
To arrive at their decision, justices considered the case of Diana Palma, who was charged with careless driving after causing an accident involving a pedestrian in February of 2010. According to the opinion, Palma was making a left turn at an intersection in Red Bank when she struck a woman crossing the road. Unware that she collided with someone, Palma continued to drive and dragged the victim some distance before another motorist flagged her down.
Palma stopped and emergency crews were alerted. The woman was freed and taken to a local hospital where she died two months later from injuries sustained in the accident.
Palma was not intoxicated and she had a valid driver’s license at the time. She told police she didn’t realize she struck someone. Police charged her with one count of careless driving and one count of failure to yield to a pedestrian.
As part of a plea bargain, Palma pleaded guilty to the careless driving; the failure to yield to a pedestrian charge was dropped. A municipal court judge then sentenced her to 15 days in jail to be served on the weekends, ordered her to surrender her license for 90 days and pay $241 in fines and fees.
Palma appealed the jail sentence, but it was upheld by Superior Court, until the Appellate Court vacated her sentence in June of 2012.
In their opinion, the justices reinforced the guidelines allowing consideration of the aggravating circumstances of a traffic violation to determine if a jail sentence was appropriate for careless driving charges. Aggravating circumstances include the heinousness of the offense, lack of remorse, and prior convictions.
Aggravating circumstances are part of the seven factors outlined in a prior NJ Supreme Court case State vs. Moran could be considered when determining sentences for a traffic violation entailing similar circumstances. Those factors include: “the nature and circumstances of defendant’s conduct, defendant’s driving record, whether a license suspension would cause excessive hardship to defendant and her dependents, and the need for personal deterrence,” justices wrote in their opinion.
The Court said to promote “the goals of predictability and eliminate disparity,” the factors outlined in Moran along with extenuating circumstances should be considered when determining a sentence that “constitutes a consequence of magnitude,” for traffic violations.
This decision is important to me and my clients since it clarifies the sentencing criteria for traffic violations. As a defense attorney, I need to be able to explain to my clients what consequences they face if they are convicted, and to prepare arguments why such a penalty is not appropriate.
It’s my job to ensure your rights are respected, and that you fully understand your charges and the potential consequences of your case. As a Newark criminal defense attorney, I am aware of the many circumstances that can jeopardize or benefit your defense. By giving each of my clients my individual attention, I am able to craft a defense that will give you a greater chance of avoiding conviction.