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Commentary: NJ DWI Laws are Unfair

Why NJ DWI Laws are Unfair

Nearly every State allows for a work/conditional drivers’ licenses for people convicted of DWI, particularly for first-time offenders. New Jersey is one of only a few States that does not provide conditional licenses. The Judge must suspend (unconditionally) the license of anyone who is convicted of DWI for the prescribed statutory minimum period – (ninety days to one year for a 1st offense, two years for a 3rd, and ten years for a 3rd). Further, there is a strict prohibition against plea-bargaining a DWI charge.

The strict and unforgiving DWI law(s) in New Jersey fail to serve the aim of deterrence and may hinder rehabilitation. Harsh penalties create havoc on lives that may already be in emotional turmoil that caused the drinking and driving in the first place. Innocent family members who are relying on the drivers are negatively affected. For many offenders, a DWI charge is a wake-up-call. The stress, shock, shame, and embarrassment of being arrested, handcuffed, and having to stand in front of a Judge is a sufficient deterrent for many offenders. For many, (particularly multiple offenders), there is some underlying psychological condition that is causing the drinking. In other words, many people facing a DWI charge are “self-medicating” with alcohol to get out of pain and/or to change their emotional state(s). I have represented people suffering from varied and real emotional trauma that underlie the DWI offense (e.g. rape and child-abuse victims, people who have suffered the unexplained loss of loved ones, people who have been betrayed by spouses, etc.). Penalties that are excessively punitive do nothing to help these people. Rather, the harsh laws may very well exacerbate their underlying psychological distress.

There is a prohibition against plea-bargaining DWI cases. A plea bargain is an agreement between the prosecutor and defense whereby the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser offense. New Jersey lawmakers have, for reasons that defy logic and fair play, singled out DWI as an offense that cannot be plea-bargained. The thinking is that DWI is a serious offense – the often-used lightening-bolt language used is that DWI causes “carnage” on the roads. However, murderers, rapists, child molesters, armed robbers, and other sociopath offenders cause greater havoc to society. Why are their offenses not targeted like DWI? These defendants can plea-bargain and make deals, but DWI defendants cannot. I believe that the distinction and targeting are simply unfair.

The targeting of DWI offenses (by not allowing plea-bargains, and not allowing conditional licenses) defies equality and fundamental fairness. Harsh New Jersey DWI laws do little to make New Jersey a safer and better place to live. Rather, harsh and unforgiving DWI laws allow other more serious and cold-hearted offenders to get breaks creating an illogically unfair system of justice. New Jersey DWI laws fail to deter, they punish families, and they push people who are already in emotional pain into greater despair.

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