Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senator Steven Oroho (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) to increase penalties for deaths caused by drivers who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie.
“Ralph and David’s Law” is named in honor of David Heim and Ralph Politi, Jr., innocent victims who lost their lives to drunk drivers.
“Families that lose a loved one to a drunk driver suffer through so much. They deserve justice and a little closure,” Senator Oroho said. “Harsher punishments can act as a deterrent and ensure that reckless drunk drivers who kill receive a punishment that reflects the magnitude of their crime.”
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.
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.
“David and Ralph were beloved. Not just by their families, but their communities as well,” Senator Oroho said. “Their families continue to feel the painful effects of these tragedies, but we can take action to prevent these kinds of incidents in the future. Updating our vehicular homicide laws can discourage other drivers from putting their life, and the lives of innocent bystanders, at stake.”
Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) was a cosponsor of the legislation in the Assembly.