Death of Pedestrian Struck By Vehicle Does Not Mean Automatic Jail
In State v. Palma, decided by the Appellate Division earlier this week, the Court held that a trial judge cannot automatically sentence a driver to a county jail term in a careless driving case because a pedestrian struck by the careless driver died as a result of the accident. The Appellate Division remanded the case and ordered the trial court to weigh mitigating and aggravating factors to determine whether jail is appropriate in the case.
On February 22, 2010, defendant Palma struck and dragged a pedestrian while operating her vehicle. There was no evidence to suggest that Palma was intoxicated or talking on the cell phone, nor was there evidence that she ran a red light, exceeded the speed limit, or fell asleep while driving. Nevertheless, she pleaded guilty to careless driving for failing to yield to a pedestrian. A municipal court judge sentenced her to 15 days county jail without permitting Palma to present mitigating evidence. The municipal court judge also considered factors that were inappropriate, such as accounts of the accident found in newspapers and his own review of the discovery.
The Appellate Division held that, before a municipal court judge can impose a jail sentence for a traffic violation, he must weigh the mitigating factors stated by the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Moran, which include the nature of the conduct; the risk of harm; actual harm caused; prior infractions; and the hardship that would result. In addition, the Court must also apply the mitigating and aggravating factors found in the Criminal Code at N.J.S. 2C:44-1 and 2C:44-2.
This article was written by New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Nace Naumoski.