In a June 11, 2009, post, I talked about a "gotcha" that existed in a New Jersey statute used to avoid points on certain traffic violations. The law itself said that motorists could plea to "Unsafe Operation" two times in a five year period and avoid the assessment of points against their license by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (in return for the payment of a $250 surcharge over and above fines and costs). Should it be used a third time in that period, four points would be assessed. Then, as I said in that post,
"[the] New Jersey Appellate Division held, in the case of Patel v. New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, that the five years started to run only after there had been a third offense and the assessment of points! This effectively says that you only have two lifetime opportunities to avoid points. After your third offense (and 4 points) you can then "reset the clock" if you go five years without using the plea."
As a result, I advised readers that this plea should only be used after careful consideration, consultation with a lawyer, and in situations where the assessment of any points could result in adverse consequences. Then, there was a ray of hope. As I reported in my September 13 post, the New Jersey Supreme Court was hearing an appeal of the Patel decision. Maybe the court would see the folly of the position taken by the Appellate Division, and reverse the decision.
Well, I am happy to report that yesterday the court reversed the previous court ruling! They held that the provisions of NJSA 39:4-97.2 (Unsafe Operation) permit a driver to avoid points on a third or subsequent offense provided that five-years have passed since the prior offense. This would include a third offense that occurs more than 5-years after a second offense. Thus drivers need not take a four point hit just to "reset the clock." This plea should only be entered into on the advice of an attorney, but it is good to see that the option is now more available!