Driving Safety

NJ Supreme Court Guides Sentencing in Careless Driving Cases

A woman cited for careless driving after hitting and killing a pedestrian in Monmouth County should not have been sentenced to jail, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday upholding a lower court decision.

“All careless driving situations are not the same, even if each offense meets the same statutory elements,” the court said. “On a ‘scale of opprobriousness,’ some offenses will weigh in at the highest end of the scale, while others do not.”

According to the opinion, the accident occurred in February 2010, when defendant Diana Palma was turning her Ford Expedition from Bergen Place onto Broad Street in Red Bank, N.J. Alla Tsiring, who was crossing Broad Street, was struck and dragged for a time before Palma was stopped by another motorist. Tsiring, 44, died from her injuries two months later.

Palma, who was licensed and not intoxicated at the time of the accident, avoided criminal charges when the prosecutor decided not to charge her criminally, but was cited for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian.

Palma pleaded guilty to careless driving and was sentenced by Red Bank Municipal Court Judge William Himelman to 15 days in Monmouth County Jail, to be served on weekends, as well as a 90-day license suspension and $241 in fines and costs. Custodial sentencing is provided for in the careless driving statute.

Palma, taking issue with the jail term, sought review by the Law Division, but Superior Court Judge Ronald Reisner imposed the same sentence.

In June 2012, however, Appellate Division Judges Marie Lihotz, Alexander Waugh Jr. and Jerome St. John vacated the sentence and remanded the case, ruling that the judges below should have considered the factors previously laid out in the 2010 Supreme Court case State v. Moran, including an individual’s driving record, whether the circumstances were likely to reoccur and whether there was a need for deterrence to be used to guide a judge’s sentencing decision. These factors should be considered “in order to promote the goals of predictability and elimination of disparity.”

The state Supreme Court agreed with a lower court that ruled, “Judges may only impose a license suspension or [jail term] in careless driving cases that present aggravating circumstances.”

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