Christie Tightens DUI Laws

By Kelly Burch 07/25/17

The new legislation honors two people who died in car accidents involving drunk drivers.

Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation last week that ensures that anyone who kills a person because of drunk driving or boating will receive at least three years in jail. 

The new legislation, known as “Ralph and David’s Law,” allows drunk drivers who cause a person’s death to be prosecuted for strict liability vehicular homicide, a third-degree crime punishable by three to five years in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.

The law is named for two people who died in car accidents involving drunk drivers. In both cases, the person operating under the influence did not spend a significant amount of time in jail. 

Ralph Politi Jr. was killed in 2012 at 49 years old when he was struck and killed by Vanessa Brown. Brown was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide in March 2016, but a judge did eventually find her guilty of driving while intoxicated, reckless and careless driving, and failure to maintain a lane, according to The Daily Record

Those charges are all motor-vehicle summonses, which resulted in Brown's license being suspended for two years. She was also ordered to perform 30 days of community service and pay about $733 in fines and penalties. Brown did, however, spend four years in custody while she awaited trial.

David Heim was 13 years old when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The operator was convicted of driving drunk, but served only 30 days in jail, the maximum sentence for a first-offense under New Jersey's previous drunk-driving law.

“In the case of both Ralph and David, this law’s namesakes, their tragic deaths, and their family’s grief, were compounded by the leniency of their perpetrator’s sentence,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, the lead sponsor of the bill. “This law will help close that loophole and send a stronger message that we will not tolerate this type of negligent and reckless behavior.”

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, another primary sponsor, said that she hoped tougher laws will prevent other people from driving when they are intoxicated.

“What these families have endured is unimaginable, but hopefully this will serve as a potent reminder and a powerful deterrent for others who might be inclined to get behind the wheel drunk,” Jasey said. “This law sends a message, loud and clear, that we will not tolerate this type of callous disregard for another person’s life.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.