What many people do not realize, even though it is a concept that is throughout our laws in New Jersey, is that a driver's licenses is a privilege, not a right. Its efficacy is regulated by the state's Motor Vehicle Commission, which can suspend someone's license administratively or pursuant to a specific statute calling for same as part of a penalty for its violation. Licenses can be suspended specifically for violations such as drunk driving, failure to insure a vehicle, possession of drugs in the car, etc. In addition, your driver's license can be suspended even if the law you violated does not call for it.
Under a specific section of the motor vehicle code (more specifically N.J.S.A. 39:5-31), a driver's license can be suspended "when such person shall have been guilty of such willful violation of any of the provisions [of the motor vehicle code] as shall, in the discretion of the magistrate, justify such revocation." In other words, your license can be suspended if you break the law on purpose. Luckily, it is not quite that simple. since it can easily be said that we violate many motor vehicle laws on purpose.
The New Jersey appeals court ruled on July 28, in the case of State v. Moran, upholding the constitutionality of the statute. In doing so, it established several aggravating and mitigating factors for judges to consider when determining whether to suspend someone's driving privileges and for how long. These factors included:
- the nature and circumstances of the offense and whether it was particularly egregious;
- any harm inflicted on others;
- the defendant's driving record, considering how long the defendant has been a licensed driver and the seriousness, frequency, and timing of prior infractions;
- the likelihood of committing further motor vehicle violations;
- the need for deterrence;
- whether there were substantial grounds tending to excuse or justify the defendant's conduct, though failing to establish a defense;
- whether this was the defendant's first violation or whether he or she had gone for a substantial period of time without violations prior to the present offense; and
- whether the defendant's character and attitude indicate that he or she is unlikely to commit another motor vehicle violation (or at least a willful one).
As to the length of the suspension, courts may also consider the length of suspensions authorized for specific offenses in the Motor Vehicle Code as a basis for comparison and proportionality.
All of this is important to bear in mind. Although license suspension may be specifically called for for some infractions, do not for a minute think that "the worst that could happen" does not include loss of your license. A driver's license is a privilege, and scofflaws never win.