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Will an overhaul of New Jersey's DUI penalties become a reality?

Whenever new DUI-related legislation emerges in Trenton, there's always immediate and justifiable concern that it will be overly punitive in nature, such that while it may result in offenders spending more time behind bars, it actually does very little to combat impaired driving.

In recent developments, however, a bill is currently making its way through the legislature that many believe might represent something of a departure from this trend in that, to quote one lawmaker, "it will increase safety on the roads without perpetuating the cycle of despair."

Under the first component of the bill in question, which has been endorsed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the ignition interlock laws in the Garden State would be amended, such that the devices would no longer be required for just those first-time offenders whose blood alcohol content is .15 or higher, or repeat offenders, but rather all DUI offenders.

Specifically, the installation and roughly $70 per month cost of these devices, which prevent vehicles from starting if the driver's breath sample shows a BAC higher than .05, would continue to be covered by those convicted.

Under the second component of the bill, however, license suspension periods would be amended, such that the current license suspension period of three to seven months (depending on the driver's BAC) would be significantly reduced to 30 to 90 days.

Here, this step was taken out of the recognition that severely limiting people's ability to drive in the wake of a DUI conviction isn't providing them with a second chance and, by extension, the ability to succeed.

"Sometimes, drivers make a mistake and they drive when they shouldn't. They lose their license for lengthy periods; they lose jobs because they can't get to work," said Assemblyman Declan O'Scanlon, one of the bill's sponsors. "The downward spiral can lead to depression and more drinking, and family members suffer."

It remains to be seen how receptive Governor Chris Christie will be to the DUI bill. Indeed, he conditionally vetoed similar legislation back two years ago calling for the license suspension period to be shortened to 10 days.

Stay tuned for updates ...

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible if you've been charged with DUI in order to protect freedom, your future and your reputation.

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