Thousands of Americans are arrested for driving under the influence every day. Sadly, about one-third of those arrested are people who have been convicted of drinking and driving at least once before. Just about every state has recognized the need to protect the general public from drunk drivers, but New Jersey, along with a growing number of states, has recognized that additional efforts should go into protecting our children. This is why the state has instituted laws related directly to drinking and driving in a school zone.
New Jersey Laws
New Jersey made one of the pioneering laws in the area of increased penalties for driving under the influence in school zones. In a nutshell, the DWI penalties in New Jersey will be doubled in a school zone. This means that a driver could face up to 60 days if convicted of driving in a school zone while intoxicated. In addition, a person’s license could be suspended for up to two years, and this is added to a possible $1,000 fine.
Though it seems as if it’d be quite obvious, “in a school zone” can actually be a gray area. In New Jersey, the school zone DWI law applies if a person is on school property, within a distance of 1,000 feet of that property or on any property that’s either leased or owned by a school. In addition, this law extends to crosswalks that are either designated as school crosswalks or happen to have young people in them at the time.
Legislation in other States
Other states have also taken strides to more severely penalize those who are driving drunk in school zones. Illinois, for instance, actually charges drivers with a felony if they cause a wreck that leads to injuries while driving drunk in a school zone. Arizona, on the other hand, takes New Jersey’s hardline tactic of doubling the typical DUI penalties when the crime is committed within a school zone. Though each state that has increased these penalties usually does so in a different way, the main point is that these penalties are relatively very serious.
For a person to be convicted of DWI in a school zone, two things must be proven: the person was drunk and that they were driving in a school zone. Whether a person was driving in a school zone is pretty cut and dry; they either were or they weren’t. This means that the only way to avoid conviction for this crime will usually be calling a finding of intoxication into question.
The simple fact is that law enforcement devices (breathalyzers) and even police officers themselves can make mistakes that lead to unfair or false findings of DWI. Attorneys make a career of finding out what these mistakes are and bringing them to light. Not only does this reduce unfair convictions, but it also ensures that the criminal justice system realizes its faults and improves upon them.
Even when all evidence points towards a person being intoxicated in a school zone, however, some people question whether charging a person with this crime when children aren’t present is just or not. At 2 a.m., for instance, there are no children in a school zone, but under New Jersey law, at this hour, a person can still be charged with DWI in a school zone. Recently, however, New Jersey lawmakers made it possible for drunk drivers to accept a plea of DWI and avoid harsher penalties if there were not children present and no one was hurt in the school zone.
Drinking and driving in a school zone presents the possibility of a tragedy taking place. This is why New Jersey and other states, often after a tragic event has already taken place, have passed laws increasing the penalties for DWIs in a school zone. There’s no doubt that, just like texting while driving laws, school zone penalty enhancements will begin to spread to more and more states as the idea becomes more widespread. These laws are meant to protect our children, and if it dissuades a few people from drinking and driving in the process, all the more better.
Legal researcher Shelby Warden posts articles to raise awareness in our communities. Those facing the strict DWI penalties in New Jersey are frequently referred to Levow & Associates by lawyers from across the country. Although most of their cases are resolved without a trial, they are extremely aggressive when defending their clients and prepare each case as if it was going to trial.