As human beings, none of us can truly say that we are perfect in every way. As lawyers who defend individuals in civil and criminal court, I and my colleagues have come to recognize the occasional shortcomings of many a good-intentioned person prior to being arrested for drunk driving or drug DUI. Fortunately, in our society, we have laws and courts to decide the guilt or innocence of those who have been accused of breaking the law.
Penalties that are meted out to convicted defendants in cases of operating a vehicle under the influence can be expensive, to say the least, which is why it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced legal professional before stepping foot in a courtroom. As New Jersey DWI defense attorneys, my firm has years of experience in representing motorists who have been arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, either prescription or illegal substances such as cocaine, meth or marijuana.
In some drunken driving cases, the defendant is not only accused of DWI or DUI, but may also be charged with vehicular assault or even manslaughter by a motor vehicle. These are serious and potentially jailable offenses. Such was the situation arising out of a car collision that took place in Gloucester County last year. According to news reports, a Deptford Twp. resident was involved in a fatal crash along a stretch of Rte 41 on March 19 of last year. At the time, police said that the man had an open beer with him when his pickup truck apparently side-swiped another vehicle on the road, precipitating a serious accident.
Based on reports, then-24-year-old Rene Berben hit a Nissan driven by 29-year-old Steven Kennedy, causing that vehicle to crash, trapping the injured victim in his car where he later died despite emergency responders’ efforts to save the man. Police investigators noted that two other passengers in the sedan, a 52-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man both survived the collision. Those two individuals were transported to Cooper Medical Center in Camden, NJ, with non-life-threatening injuries.
Berben, a war veteran from the Garden State, was arrested taken into custody by police and charged with DWI after officers measured a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.34 percent , which is four times more than the legal limit of 0.08 percent. In addition to the drunk driving offense, prosecutors pursued vehicular homicide and assault by auto charges, to which the man eventually pleaded guilty not long ago.
According to court transcripts, Berben revealed to authorities that he had consumed what he said were more than 10 drinks in a local bar. As a result of the guilty plea, the man was sentenced to six years’ incarceration in a New Jersey state prison for the manslaughter charge. On top of that sentence, the defendant received a year-long jail sentence — to be served concurrent to the six-year sentence — for his responsibility in the vehicular assault charge. Included in the sentencing was a $300 DWI-related fine plus a 7-month suspension of the man’s driver’s license following release from prison. In the meantime, Mr. Berben will not be eligible for parole until he has served a minimum of five years (85 percent) of that six-year term.