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Senator Steven Oroho

Senator Steve Oroho

Oroho Bill Increasing Penalties for Deaths Caused While Drunk Driving Advances

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The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee has approved legislation sponsored by Senator Steven Oroho (R-24) to update the state’s vehicular homicide statutes to increase penalties for deaths caused by drivers who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.

Sen. Steven Oroho’s legislation increases penalties for deaths caused by drivers who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. (Flickr)

The measure, S-2423, is entitled “Ralph and David’s Law” in honor of Ralph Politi, Jr. and David Heim, innocent victims who lost their lives to drunk drivers.

“Everyone knows the dangers of DUI, so there’s no excuse to spare those selfish individuals who drive when they shouldn’t from being held responsible for the deaths that they cause,” said Oroho. “Too many of these offenders are getting off with mere slaps on the wrist, while the families of victims are left suffering lifetimes of loss.”

In 2004, David Heim, age 13, was run over and killed by a drunk driver in Sussex County as he crossed the street with his mother and siblings. The driver was convicted only of drunk driving and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Mr. Politi, an East Hanover business owner and community activist, was killed in 2012 by a drunk driver who swerved out of her lane and hit him as he stood by his parked pickup truck. The driver was charged with aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide, but was found not guilty in March of 2016.

“Under current law, it’s simply too difficult to prosecute and punish a drunk driver who kills someone to an extent that matches the magnitude and impact of their crime,” said Oroho. “This legislation updates our vehicular homicide laws to ensure that those who kill while driving drunk or high can be held accountable.”

The legislation creates the third-degree crime of “strict liability vehicular homicide” for individuals who cause a death by driving a vehicle or operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, or a fine of up to $15,000, or both.

The presumption of non-imprisonment that generally applies to first-time offenders convicted of a crime of the third degree would not apply to those convicted of this new crime.

The current crime of “vehicular homicide” would be renamed “reckless vehicular homicide.”

Prosecutors could charge a driver who causes a homicide with either “strict liability vehicular homicide” or “reckless vehicular homicide” depending on the circumstances.

“David Heim and Ralph Politi had families who loved them and lives full of possibility that were cut short,” added Oroho. “Our ultimate goal isn’t to punish, but to discourage and prevent the dangerous activity of DUI so that others will not have to experience such tragedy.”

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