Summertime is Almost Here, Yet Serious Penalties Exist Year-round for DWI in School Zones

We’re fast approaching the first day of summer, when kids all over New Jersey will be running toward the exits of many primary and secondary schools. With warm weather finally here and families making vacation plans for the Jersey Shore and other summer fun spots, it is important to remember that school is still in session. And regardless of whether kids are in school or not, local and state police are still keen on pulling motorists over when they are observed making even the most basic of driving errors in a school zone.

Many drivers are likely aware that increased penalties exists for those drivers convicted of intoxicated operation of a motor vehicle while within 1,000 feet of school property, but what most people may not realize is that it makes no difference whether school is in session or if children are present or not, the enhanced monetary fines and other penalties for DWI in a school zone are always in effect.

As Garden State drunken driving defense lawyers, my firm’s legal team understands New Jersey DWI-DUI law. Potential clients visiting our offices can include those individuals who have been arrested for or charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, doctor-prescribed medication, or an illegal controlled dangerous substance (CDS). Whichever is the case, if convicted, a driver will be looking at some rather unpleasant penalties.

Thanks to “Filomena’s Law,” which was passed in late 1999, the state of New Jersey made driving drunk near schools much more expensive following a DWI guilty verdict. This law essentially states that penalties for a drunken driving conviction will be enhanced when the offense takes place in a school zone. This can be within 1,000 feet of a property owned by or leased to any elementary or secondary school, or the school board itself if it is used for school purposes.

The law addresses instances where a motorist, who is proven to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, was caught while driving through a school crossing zone that has been legally designated as such by the local municipality. It also includes instances where the DWI-DUI takes place in a school crossing zone that may not have been officially designated by local ordinance, so long as the prosecution can prove to the judge that the motorist knew young children were present near the crossing at the time alleged DWI-DUI offense.

Often, we are asked by motorists who have been charged with this particular type of offense whether or not the prosecution will be able to prove the offense took place in a school zone. Strictly speaking, the municipal prosecutor does not need to prove that the defendant was aware that he or she was within the stated 1,000 feet of school property. And since there is not requirement that children be present (or classes be in session) at the time of the violation, this gives the police and prosecutors what is known as “24/7” blanket coverage for all school zones and school crossing areas when drunk driving is involved.

Once convicted of DWI in a school zone, a defendant can face much stiffer penalties, even if the driver is a first-time offender in the eyes of the law. Fines can range from $500 to $800 with fees and assessments exceeding $300. In addition, as with any DWI conviction, there will be insurance premium surcharges for years following the actual conviction. All of this points to need for professional legal help from a lawyer experienced in representing drivers accused of DWI or drug DUI.

Anyone who finds themselves facing a school zone associated drunken driving charge should seriously consider contacting a qualified attorney to learn more about their rights under the law. For many individuals, the penalties under Filomena’s Law may seem quite harsh, especially when considering the provisions for loss of driving privileges and even possible jail time. A skilled New Jersey DWI lawyer can provide valuable insight into fighting these and other drunk driving-related charges.