The state Supreme Court recently overturned the jail sentence of a driver who hit a pedestrian. In its decision, the Court issued guidelines for municipal judges to use in sentencing future careless driving cases, law firms in New Jersey report. These guidelines put a careless driving charge more in line with a conviction for reckless driving so that the two are considered with similar factors.
According to the state’s Supreme Court justices, “all careless driving situations are not the same, even if each offense meets the same statutory elements. On a ‘scale of opprobriousness,’ some offenses will weigh in at the highest end of the scale, while others do not.”
The Incident in Question
According to court documents, in February 2010, a female driver was turning from Bergen Place onto Broad Street in Red Bank N.J., when she struck a woman who was crossing Broad Street. The woman hit, age 44, was dragged a short time before another motorist stopped the driver's car. Two months later, the woman who was hit died as a result of the injuries sustained.
The driver was tested for alcohol or drug use at the time of the accident and her reports came back negative. She was cited for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian, but did not face criminal charges. She pleaded guilty to careless driving, and Red Bank Municipal Court Judge William Himelman sentenced her to 15 days (to be served on weekends) in Monmouth County jail, along with a 90-day license suspension, and approximately $240 in fines and court costs.
The state’s careless driving statute allows for custodial sentencing. But the driver objected to the jail sentence and sought review from the Law Division, and eventually the Appellate Division. There, the appeals judges referred to a 2010 state Supreme Court case, State v. Moran, which established the factors that judges should consider before suspending a driver’s license for reckless driving. Those seven factors are:
- Nature and circumstances of the driver’s actions
- The defendant’s driving record
- The length of time between this infraction and the previous one
- The driver’s character and attitude
- Whether the reckless behavior is likely to occur again
- Excessive hardship that may be caused by the suspension sentence
- The need for personal deterrence
Reckless driving is a more serious charge than careless driving, and it usually carries a penalty of jail time. But with respect to the driver's conviction, she argued that she should not have to serve 15 days in jail because her charge did not meet the criteria for such a harsh penalty.
However, the state Supreme Court’s final ruling called for the application of the Moran factors in both careless and reckless driving cases. It also established that a jail sentence is a “consequence of magnitude.” The judges wrote that, “in order to promote the goals of predictability and elimination of disparity, we conclude that the Moran factors should be used to guide sentencing decisions in careless driving convictions.”
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a law firm in New Jersey, our attorneys represent clients who have been charged with criminal activity, such as reckless or careless driving. We keep track of state Supreme Court rulings that could alter standard penalties for these crimes. Contact an HCK attorney for a free, no-strings consultation on your case today.