School Zone DWI

Effective as of December 1, 1999, the New Jersey State Legislature put into effect a series of reforms known as Filomena’s Law that enhanced punishment for drunk driving offenses in a school zone. The law is named after Filomena Coppola, a beloved crossing guard, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while protecting two children at a school crossing in Nutley. The law, as it is defined, provides that it shall be an enhanced offense if you are caught drunk driving within 1000 feet of property which is used for school purposes and is owned by or leased to any elementary or secondary school or school board. The same is true of defendants who drive under the influence through a school zone crossing if the municipality, by ordinance, has designated the crossing as such. Additionally, even where the school zone crossing has not been officially designated as such by local law, a defendant may still be liable to enhanced punishment for a DWI offense if it can be shown that he or she knew that juveniles were present near the crossing at the time of the offense.

Proof Necessary to Prove a DWI in a School Zone?

Two of the three general requirements for the sentencing enhancement associated with driving in a school zone are strict liability in nature. First, the prosecution need not prove in any way that you, or a loved one, was aware that you were driving within 1000 feet of school property or through a school-crossing zone which has been so designated by ordinance or resolution in order to trigger the mandatory enhanced punishment. It is also not necessary for the enhancement that children be present at the time of the violation or that school be in session. The legislature has in effect placed a 24/7 blanket over school zones and school-crossings. It does not matter that what time of day, it does not matter if you know it is a school zone or crossing, it does not matter even if you are randomly stopped within a school zone or crossing, all of these are strict liability crimes. The only time that the courts will consider state of mind in a school-zone/crossing enhancement violation is when the “crossing” is not designated as such by ordinance or resolution. Although the statute does not explicitly denote that it must be knowingly in an area such as the one above, the courts have read in knowing to be the required state of mind for driving in a school crossing not designated by ordinance or resolution.

Elements of the offense then include that the prosecution show by certified map that the person was in fact arrested within 1000 feet of an elementary or secondary school or school-crossing and that they met the requisite elements for a normal DWI offense. This means that you must be stopped with probable cause and be proven to be over the legal limit of intoxication or otherwise proven guilty by refusal to submit to a breath test or failure of field sobriety testing.

Fines, License Suspension, Jail & Other Penalties

For a first offense DWI in a school zone, there is a fine from $606 to $1006. A jail term of not more than 60 days is mandatory. In addition, the defendant must lose his or her driving privileges for a period ranging from one and two years. Every conviction under this offense 39:4-50(g) also carries with it a conviction under 39:4-50(a), which is a regular DWI offense without the aggravating factor of being in a school zone.

For a second offense DWI in a school zone there is no opportunity for a step down, meaning even if ten years have passed between previous offenses, this will still be regarded as a second offense. The fines associated with a second offense are $1006 to $2006 and the defendant must complete 60 days of community service, the equivalent of 360 hours of community service. There is also a minimum mandatory jail term of not fewer than 96 hours that may not be suspended by the judge or served on probation. The jail term may also be extended to 180 days in jail, 90 days of which may be substituted for 90 days more of community service in addition to the already mandatory 60 days community service. As opposed to a normal DWI offense, your license will be suspended in this case for four years instead of just two.

For a third or subsequent offense, the penalties are even more severe. The fine is set at $2006, but there is a mandatory 180 day jail term. There is also a loss of license privileges for 20 years and the mandatory instillation of an ignition interlock device upon getting your license back. There are several ways to mitigate the damages of these penalties, such as substituting jail time for time in an approved residential treatment facility approved by the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. However, this may only lessen the jail time by 90 days and the other penalties cannot be mitigated under circumstances.

What Does This Mean For Me?

These penalties are unduly harsh in terms of loss of license and potential jail time, you need to have experienced reputation to help attack the validity of the prosecution’s argument. Here at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, we have over 100 years of collective experience defending clients with DWI charges. Our team can help you find ways to limit your exposure to potentially life altering circumstances. In addition to having four of our lawyers certified in the operation of the Alcotest 7110, the breath test device used in the state of New Jersey to measure BAC, we also boast three of only five attorneys in the state that are Certified Field Sobriety Instructors, instructors that know the ins and outs of the protocol that must be followed by police in performing Field Sobriety Tests. So please, if you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI offense in the state of New Jersey, do not hesitate to contact one of our conveniently located offices around the state.

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