TRENTON – The Senate Law & Public Safety and Veterans’ Affairs Committee added their support today to two bills sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono and Paul Sarlo that would increase minimum jail time for those caught driving while their license is suspended for drunk driving and allow judges to treat DWI convictions more than 10 years apart as second offenses.
“We need to send the message loud and clear – New Jersey has zero-tolerance for those who choose to drive drunk,” said Senator Buono, D-Middlesex. “Too many New Jersey families have lost loved ones at the hands of a drunk driver to allow us to give second chances to those who have already been caught once endanger their own lives and the lives of everyone on the roads.”
The first measure, S-531, would increase the minimum jail period from 10 days to 30 days for those individuals caught driving while their license is revoked for a previous DWI conviction. The second bill, S-532, would eliminate the “step down” provision in state law which downgrades subsequent DWI offenses that occur more than 10 years after a previous conviction, allowing judges the discretion of sentencing individuals with 10 or more years between DWI convictions as either first-time or repeat offenders.
“These are serious crimes that must come with serious punishments,” added Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “The ones who get pulled over before they get into an accident are the lucky ones. We need to make sure they don’t temp fate a second time.”
Senator Buono said that her drafting of these bills was inspired by the tragic death of 17-year-old Michael Partipilo in 2004, at the hands of a serial drunk driver. The drunk driver, Philip Gonzalez, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 16 years in jail. It was revealed prior to his conviction that he had already received numerous other moving violations, including leaving the scene of an accident and 12 license suspensions since he first received his license.
The Senators were joined at the Committee hearing today by Michael’s father, Michael Partipilo, Sr., who has worked tirelessly since his son’s death to pass these measures.
Both bills were given public support by Attorney General Stuart Rabner last week, who said, “This Office strongly supports efforts to enhance public safety by doing all we can to prevent people from driving while intoxicated.”
Senator Buono noted that both of these measures were passed by the full Senate in 2004, but were not considered by the Assembly before the end of the 2004-2005 legislative session. She expects the Senate to quickly approve the bills again.
“These reforms honor Michael and every individual lost at the hands of a drunk driver by holding drunk drivers accountable for their actions. We won’t stop until these bills become law,” said Senator Buono.
Both bills were approved unanimously and now head to the full Senate for their approval.