Law allows first-time violators to keep driving

Judges have leeway in allowing first-time drug offenders to keep their driving privileges to maintain employment, after a bill that was sponsored by a pair of legislators representing portions of Hudson County was signed into law this week by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

The bill, S-1302, eliminates the mandatory suspension of driving privileges for a period of between six months and two years during court proceedings for first-time offenders, as was previously required by state statute.

Judges can now rule one way or the other on preserving an individual’s ability to drive, based on a finding that a lengthy suspension would result in extreme hardship and that alternative means of transportation are unavailable for the offender.

“This new law will help those who made minor mistakes keep their driving licenses so they get to work or look for jobs,” said Sen. Nick Sacco, D-Hudson, in a statement. “It gives discretion to judges so people who made minor mistakes can straighten out their lives.”

The bill revised what is known as the conditional discharge statute, under which court proceedings for first-time offenders can be halted if the offender agrees to be placed under a period of court supervision.

But part of the statute required courts to suspend driving privileges as part of the process, resulting in offenders without licenses and without an ability to get around in many parts of automobile-dependent New Jersey.

“These judicial exemptions will empower offenders to follow through on commitments to get to jobs and support their families,” said Sen. Brian Stack, D-Hudson.

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