The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee has passed “Ralph & David’s Law,” bipartisan 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. S-2423 is named in honor of David Heim and Ralph Politi, Jr., innocent victims who lost their lives to drunk drivers.
Sen. Steven Oroho’s bipartisan “Ralph and David’s Law” establishes harsher punishments for drunk drivers who cause a fatality. (Flickr)
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. Ralph Politi, Jr., 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.
“The fact that someone could drive drunk, kill a child, and walk away with merely a slap on the wrist is unconscionable. That is a completely ineffective way to deter someone else from committing the same crime.” Senator Oroho said. “The harsher penalties established under my bill will ensure that the families who suffer the pain of losing a loved one so tragically get the justice they so rightfully deserve and society demands.”
Sen. Oroho’s S-2423 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.
“Right now, it is very difficult to prosecute a drunk driver who kills someone and hand down a punishment that fits the crime,” Senator Oroho said. “The Heims, Politis, and any other family who has endured such a tragedy deserve appropriate action from our justice system. My bill updates our vehicular homicide laws to ensure that those who kill while driving drunk or high are held rightly accountable.”
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