As any New Jerseyans can tell you, we live extremely busy lives. Living in the shadow of two major cities and with many major multinational corporations calling the state home, we work hard and push ourselves harder and further than most other people in the United States. However, this hard work and dedication has costs. Many pay the price in reduced amounts of sleep or, potentially, no sleep at all. While pushing yourself to meet and surpass your goals is undoubtedly an admirable characteristic, one must apply himself or herself in a fashion that does not potentially endanger the health and safety of others. Many New Jersey residents are capable of doing exactly this and can balance their ambition with their personal needs and find themselves accidentally in need of a DUI attorney.

Unfortunately, sometime vehicular accidents happen simply due to the state’s dense population and heavy reliance on cars and trucks for transportation. In some cases a tired driver’s condition can be misperceived by a law enforcement officer as being more serious than it actually is. In some instances where a fatal accident occurs this can, indeed, lead to charges in New Jersey that are similar to those a driver suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs would face.

someone driving a car and holding the steering wheel

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation Can Mimic Those of Alcohol

As a threshold matter, let us first examine the reasoning behind the state’s decision to pass a statute that treats severely fatigued driving nearly the same as impaired driving. One of the reasons behind this approach to drowsy driving The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that one in every six auto crashes is the result of a sleep-deprived driver. By contrast, one in three fatal accidents are attributed to intoxicated drivers by the NHTSA. In fact, according to one Australian study, drivers who have not slept for approximately 20 hours had impaired reaction time and judgment. The test showed that these drivers reacted at about half of the rate a well-rested driver would. The Australian study found that the delayed reaction times are comparable to an individual with a BAC of 0.05 percent. Information released by AAA Mid-Atlantic equates 24 hours without sleep as having a similar effect to a BAC of 0.10.

Sleep Deprived Drivers Are Considered Reckless Under New Jersey Law

In 2003, New Jersey became the only state in the nation to criminalize drowsy driving after the tragic death of Maggie McDonnell in 1997. Ms. McDonnell passed away on July 2, 1997 when a driver who had not slept for 30 hours and who was possibly under the influence of crack cocaine crossed onto the wrong side of the road and hit Ms. McDonnell’s vehicle head-on.

Today, under Maggie’s Law codified as N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5, a driver who knowingly gets behind the wheel of a vehicle or vessel is considered to have acted recklessly. For the purposes of the statute, fatigued means that the driver has not slept over the course of the previous 24 hours. Drivers who knowingly operate a motor vehicle while fatigued and cause a fatal accident can be charged with vehicular homicide. Similarly, drivers who operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol can also face vehicular homicide charges.

Unhappy Woman In Driver's Seat of Car

Vehicular homicide is typically charged as a second-degree crime. Second-degree crimes in New Jersey can be punished by a prison sentence of five to ten years and a fine of up to $150,000. However, there are also circumstances that can give rise to first-degree vehicular homicide charges. These include:

  • When the accident occurs on school property used for educational purposes or within 1,000 feet of school property.
  • When the accident occurs when driving through a designated school crossing.

First-degree crimes can be punished with a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. Aside from potential first-degree vehicular homicide charges, the law also authorizes the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences provided that certain behaviors were present.  Furthermore, depending on the conduct at hand the vehicle or vessel can be ordered forfeit unless the defendant can rebut the penalty by establishing that the forfeiture would constitute a serious hardship to the family of the defendant and that the hardship outweighed and potential deterrent effect.

Facing Vehicular Homicide Charges Due to Drowsy Driving? Contact an Atlantic City Criminal Defense Attorney

Drivers facing vehicular homicide charges are facing life-altering criminal penalties. However, testing for sleep deprivation is less of an exact science as compared to testing one’s blood-alcohol-concentration. Those facing charges of this type need an experienced Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer to protect their rights and freedoms. TO schedule a free and private consultation at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych call us at (609) 616-4956 or contact us online.