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Could New Jersey DUI penalties get any worse? Maybe

The country is in a major state of flux what with the new administration getting underway in Washington. Few would say that it's business as usual. Indeed, many observers say the focus on communication through cryptic social media like Twitter leaves the general public unable to know what to expect next.

The same is not true for New Jersey. Regular channels of communication are still in use where legislating is concerned. People might not always like what they hear, but at least they know the direction of things. Considering one particular piece of legislation under consideration in Trenton, cracking down on suspected drunk driving, clarity is a good thing. The issue is when ignition interlock devices would be required.

For those with no experience in DUI charge defense, interlock devices are breath testers wired into the ignition system of vehicles. The vehicle owner covers that cost and a monthly rental. Their supposed to prevent a person whose blood alcohol level is higher than a preset limit from starting the engine. Like any device, they might sometimes deliver false positives, but supporters say statistics show they save lives.

Right now, New Jersey law requires an ignition interlock device installed only in certain cases. If you are convicted of DUI a second or more times, installation is mandatory for from one to three years.

For first-time offenders, it's up to a judge's discretion, unless you happened to have blown a blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent when police tested you. Then the device is mandatory and it stays in place for the term of your license suspension and up to a year after that.

The new bill before the state legislature calls for making interlock devices mandatory for all first-time offenders, regardless. The BAC setting for aborting ignition would be 0.05 percent – lower than the current legal limit of 0.08 percent. If a user's BAC consistently registers as low as 0.03 percent, it could mean a return to court. As something of an apparent carrot, authors of the bill offer that license suspensions will be shorter.

It's not clear whether the measure will pass. What is clear is that DUI penalties are such that presenting a strong legal defense is important for the protection of your rights if charged, and that is not going to change.

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