TRENTON — No more short stints in jail for drunk drivers who kill people in New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie on Friday signed a bill that requires a prison sentence of at least three years for drunk drivers convicted of homicide.
Known as Ralph and David’s Law, the measure creates a new crime – third-degree strict liability homicide – for causing a death by driving a car or operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The legislation was in response to the outcry over light sentences that some drunken drivers have received because their crimes didn’t rise to the level of the state’s first- or second-degree offenses addressing driving under the influence. Until this new law, the only other offense jurors, judges and prosecutors could consider was drunken driving, which carries a penalty of up to 30 days in jail.
Third-degree crimes generally do not require jail or prison time for a first-time offender but Ralph and David’s Law calls for mandatory incarceration of between three and five years.
The law was named for David Heim and Ralph Politi Jr., whose cases highlighted the loopholes in New Jersey’s drunken driving laws.
David, 13, of Hampton, was killed when he was hit by a drunken driver as he was crossing Route 206 with his mother and siblings in 2014. The motorist, not charged with vehicular homicide, was convicted of drunken driving and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
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.
The new law allows prosecutors to charge offenders with strict liability vehicular homicide or reckless vehicular homicide, depending on the circumstances. Reckless vehicular homicide would involve negligence on the part of the driver or boat operator.