New Jersey DWI News: Pending Legislation could Increase Jail Sentences for Fatal DWI Accidents

Drunken driving, or DWI (driving while intoxicated), is a serious offense in New Jersey. From Atlantic City to Newark, law enforcement agencies and state legislators are getting more and more tough with people who drive under the influence of alcohol. As a New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyer, I and my colleagues understand the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs (DUI or drug DWI).

Recently, the New Jersey state legislature has taken on the task of making those convicted of fatal DWI traffic accidents go to jail and stay there longer. These days a conviction in the Garden State for operating a motor vehicle while inebriated is an expensive proposition; killing another person while drunk usually calls for jail time — soon that jail term may be longer than many expect.

According to news reports, a bill entitled “Josh’s and Craig’s Law” could increase the penalties for motorists who cause a fatality as a result of a DWI traffic accident. The new legislation is being sponsored in the state Senate by Senator Jeff Van Drew and in the Assembly by Assemblymen Matt Milam and Nelson Albano.

The bill takes its name from Josh Moren and Craig Lozier, who died within weeks of each other in similar DWI-related accidents in Cape May County last year. The common thread, according to news reports, is that these two individuals were apparently killed by drivers who allegedly were driving under the influence of a large amount of alcohol, or a mix of drugs and alcohol.

Moren, who was 18, died in June of 2008 along Route 47 in Middle Township just three weeks after graduating from Sacred Heart High School. He was killed by 48-year-old Laura Lippie of Bridgeton, NJ. Lippie is currently serving more than sevens years in prison at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

According to news articles, the new law would mandate a minimum sentence of 10 years for an DWI offense involving high levels of intoxication, such as Lippie was convicted for. Based on court records, Lippie pleaded guilty to having spent the day before the accident drinking vodka. Her blood-alcohol content (BAC) at the time of the accident was measured at 0.37 percent — more than four times the legal limit.

Several weeks after Moren was killed, Lozier was hit by a drunk driver as he was riding a motorcycle on Route 47 near his home in Cape May Court House. Police reportedly filed DWI and drug possession and distribution charges against Nicholas Golden, the driver who hit Lozier. Golden was subsequently indicted on first-degree aggravated manslaughter charges, which carries between 10 and 30 years in prison. At the time of the news article, Golden was free on bail pending trial.

The proposed legislation is said to apply to motorists who cause fatal accidents while either having a BAC in excess of 0.25 percent or having previous driving while intoxicated offenses. Under the current wording, if convicted a person would have to serve at least 10 years in state prison, or 85 percent of the overall term — whichever is greater — before being eligible for parole.

Addition wording states that if the defendant was intoxicated and under the influence of a “narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug in his blood” he or she would then be facing up to 20 years in state prison. The person would have to serve at least three years or one third of the sentence, whichever is greater, in state prison before parole eligibility.

Bill would hike penalties in DWI fatalities, PressofAtlanticCity.com, December 22, 2009