N.J. Gov. Signs Bill to Toughen Drunk Driving Laws

January 4, 2005

Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey recently signed S1504, which builds upon New Jersey’s drunk driving laws.

Codey was joined last week by Sen. Barbara Buono, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, and by Michael Partipilo, whose 17-year-old son, Michael, was killed in March by a four-time convicted drunk driver. Michael, who lived in Piscataway, was an honor student at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen.

“As a father, I know how much parents worry about their children,” Codey said. “We worry every time they leave the house, and we pray they come home safe. No law will bring Michael back. But I’m hopeful they will protect other innocent lives, and ensure other children do come home safe.”

S1504 expands upon a law enacted this summer that requires municipal prosecutors and judges to review a defendant’s driving record prior to sentencing if the defendant has been convicted of drunken driving or refusing to take a Breathalyzer test.

S1504 requires municipal judges and prosecutors to also review a defendant’s driver history when the defendant is being sentenced for leaving the scene of an accident or for driving with a revoked license.

“We have come together today in an effort to prevent tragic accidents and fatalities this New Year,” said Buono, D-Middlesex. “This bill will ensure that judges are provided the opportunity to review an individuals driving record in order to determine whether they are subject to more serious penalties under the law.”

The driver who killed Michael Partipilo held a valid driver’s license despite his prior convictions. It is reportedly unclear whether the judge who sentenced him on his most recent conviction prior to the fatal accident reviewed his record. She only revoked his license for six months rather than 10 years as would have been required for repeat offenders.

“People who repeatedly drive while intoxicated need to understand that this reckless behavior will not be tolerated,” said Assemblyman Peter Barnes, D-Middlesex, another primary sponsor of the bill. “This legislation will ensure that someone who is a repeat offender is properly sentenced under the law.”

In New Jersey in 2003, more than 28,000 motorists were convicted of driving under the influence. Of those, more than 5,000 were repeat offenders. In addition, more than 1,000 motorists were convicted of leaving the scene of an accident and nearly 42,000 were convicted of driving with a suspended license.

“I am proud to be the Assembly sponsor of this needed legislation,” said Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex. “It is common sense that the prosecutor should have reliable information about a drunk driver’s record before a plea is entered in court.”

Codey signed S1504 during a news conference at the Edison Municipal Complex, where he was also joined by members of the New Jersey State Police, including Lt. Stephen Wolcott.

“The New Jersey State Police and the entire law enforcement community remain committed to public safety,” Wolcott said. “Prevention is our goal. However, people should remember that chances are if they drive while under the influence they will be arrested.”

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