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Sacco/Stack Measure To Give Judges More Flexibility On Driving Penalties In Drug Cases Passes Senate

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Nicholas Sacco and Brian Stack that would allow judges to revoke mandatory driver’s license suspensions in minor drug offenses cases was approved by the full Senate today.

“For many people seeking treatment for drug dependency, being able to drive can mean the difference in their successful completion of the program,” said Senator Sacco, D-Hudson and Bergen. “Judges should have discretion to restore driver’s licenses when there are compelling circumstances so that recovering addicts can get well and become productive members of the community.”

Senator Sacco noted that under the existing law courts are required to revoke the driving privileges of any person placed under supervisory treatment if that person has been found or pleaded guilty to the offense. The Senators’ bill, S-1302, would make the revocation discretionary if the court finds compelling circumstances warrant an exception.

New Jersey’s conditional discharge statute permits a court to dismiss proceedings against certain first-time drug offenders who successfully meet the terms and conditions of a program of supervisory treatment imposed by the court. The procedure is available to a defendant who has no previous drug convictions, and is before the court for a disorderly persons offense related to drugs or drug paraphernalia.

“These people are taking the steps necessary to combat their addictions and get their lives back on track,” add Senator Stack, D-Hudson. “Those efforts are hampered if they don’t have the means to get to their treatment programs or to work every day. We’re empowering judges to make the right decision, so that drug offenders who seek treatment can succeed.”

Senator Stack said that current law requires that individuals convicted of a drug or drug paraphernalia offense have their driver’s license revoked for a period of six months to two years beginning at the time of sentencing. That law allows the court to make an exception for compelling circumstances at sentencing, but is unclear as to the court’s authority to reinstate driving privileges after that time. The Senators’ bill would address this ambiguity by adding express language authorizing a court to reinstate driving privileges after sentencing if merited by compelling circumstances.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 21-16 and now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

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