I have written before about why it is a bad idea to break the traffic code "willfully" (such as to drive with full knowledge that your license is suspended or that you have no insurance), by discussing the ruling of the New Jersey appellate court in the case of State v. Moran . Basically, it is because you could have your license suspended for doing so.
Well, on July 13, 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling on the appeal of that case. The Justices set forth standards that judges are to use when deciding whether (and how long) to suspend someone's driving privileges. The relevant law authorizes this punishment for any "willful" violation of the state's motor vehicle laws. In addition to ruling that this law applies to situations involving enhanced recklessness, the justices required that sentencing judges weigh, evaluate and note on the court record a number of factors before imposing a license suspension, including:
- the nature and circumstances of the defendant's conduct, including whether the conduct posed a high risk of danger to the public or caused physical harm or property damage;
- the defendant's driving record, including the defendant's age and length of time as a licensed driver, and the number, seriousness, and frequency of prior infractions;
- whether the defendant was infraction-free for a substantial period before the most recent violation or whether the nature and extent of the defendant's driving record indicates that there is a substantial risk that he or she will commit another violation;
- whether the character and attitude of the defendant indicates that he or she is likely or unlikely to commit another violation;
- whether the defendant's conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur;
- whether a license suspension would cause excessive hardship to the defendant and/or dependents; and
- the need for personal deterrence.
These are in addition to any other factors that the court may deem relevant.
In addition to these factors, the Court stated that comparisons to motor vehicle statutes that impose mandatory license suspensions also may be a useful guide in some cases. It is also not necessarily the number of the above considerations that apply, but the weight to be attributed to one or more of them.
My caution in my previous post still applies: don't think you are safe from license suspension because the traffic statute you break does not include that as a penalty; if the court deems your violation to be "willful," you could still lose your license. The ability to drive in New Jersey is a privilege, not a right!