According to a recent NJ case, failing to wear seat belts can support a criminal conviction if it is accompanied by aggravating factors.
The technical way of putting this unprecedented result is that the Appellate Division found that a violation of the Passenger Automobile Seat Belt Usage Act of 1984 (which makes wearing seat belts mandatory) can serve as a predicate offense for N.J.S.A. 2C:40-18.
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-18, New Jersey’s Public Safety Statute, if you knowingly violate a law that was intended to protect the public health and safety, you can be convicted of a crime so long as you acted recklessly and injured someone.
Put simply, if you are caught not wearing your seat belt and act recklessly and injure a person, you can now be charged with a crime in New Jersey.The court dealt with a tragic case in which an 18 year old girl lost control of her car on Route 519 in Hampton Township.
The car crashed into a guard rail and her 16-year-old passenger was killed. Neither wore seat belts.
During an investigation of the vehicle, police discovered cans of aerosol dust remover and carpet deodorizer on the driver’s side floor. Police believed that the driver and passenger were inhaling the propellants in order to get high.
A blood sample taken at a local hospital confirmed their suspicions.
However, due to the lack of scientific data showing the levels at which huffing, or inhaling propellants, causes cognitive impairments, prosecutors decided not to bring vehicular homicide charges against the driver.
Instead, they brought charges based on the Public Safety Statute arising out of the seat belt violation and extreme recklessness attributed to huffing while driving.
Ultimately, the Appellate Division determined that this was enough to support a criminal conviction.
Defense attorneys throughout New Jersey are worried that this ruling is a bit extreme and improperly expands the Public Safety Statute.
They are arguing that the Public Safety Statute was designed for situations affecting the public at large, not particular individuals.
If you or a loved one were recently charged with a crime in New Jersey, be sure to contact an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney.