Sometimes normally law-abiding citizens inadvertently find themselves facing serious legal repurcussions. For instance, did you know that driving without valid car insurance may carry a harsher penalty than a first-time DWI?
Ignorance of the law is generally no excuse, so hopefully this post will help provide a better understanding of how certain decisions may lead to more severe penalties than (perhaps) expected.
1. Driving Without Insurance: In New Jersey, the driving without insurance statute is considered a strict liability statute. This means your only defense is proving you did have valid insurance at the time you were ticketed. It's not sufficient to obtain insurance after the fact. If you can't prove you had insurance at the time you were pulled over, then there is often little an attorney (or even a Judge) can do to decrease the harsh penalties under the driving without insurance statute, which include (for a first offense) a mandatory loss of license for a year, community service, fines, and other sanctions. It's important your insurance never lapses, as even a one day lapse of insurance can result in the loss of a license for a year.
2. Driving While Texting or Talking on Cell Phone; Falling Asleep While Driving: Cell phones and cars are a legal landmine. Indeed, the potential sanctions for texting while driving can range from the innocous (small fine) to years in jail should you happen to be involved in an accident that harms or kills another while texting or talking. The same types of penalties may exist if an individual falls asleep while driving---particularly if they haven't slept for more than 24 hours prior to taking the wheel. Such negligence or recklessness can also lead to severe civil liabilities. In short, anytime you text or talk on the cell while driving, you are taking a big chance, both with your legal rights and potentially your and other individual's lives. A good example of this is the recent story in the news about the young man who texted he was afraid for his safety because of texting shortly before an accident.
3. Driving While Intoxicated (Even without blowing a .08+) - Everyone knows it's dangerous to drink and drive. Just about everyone in New Jersey also knows that the state's legal drinking limit is .08 BAC (blood alcohol concentration). But what most people don't realize, however, is that a DWI conviction can be successfully prosecuted without demonstrating a .08 or above BAC. If the police can demonstrate through field tests and/or personal observation that you were intoxicated while operating a vehicle, the .08 (per se) requirement is not necessary to sustain a conviction. Civil and criminal liability may also exist if you loan your car to someone you know or should know is intoxicated.
4. Harassment and Contempt - Paticularly in an alleged domestic violence setting, the harassment section of the statute is clear that words alone may be sufficient for the entry of a restraining order/harassment. The statute provides that: a person commits a petty disorderly persons offense if, with purpose to harass another, he:
a. Makes, or causes to be made, a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language, or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm;
b. Subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touching, or threatens to do so; or
c. Engages in any other course of alarming conduct or of repeatedly committed acts with purpose to alarm or seriously annoy such other person.
When a restraining order is in place, a mere pocket dial to the person whom obtained the restraining order could potentially give rise to a criminal contempt charge. So, although most marriages have their share of disagreements, the next time you are about to lose your temper, it's probably best to calm down. If someone obtains a restraining order against you, it's probably test to remove them from your social media, telephone, email, etc., and advise others not to contact the person as that too could be misconstrued.
5. Allowing Teenage Children (and/or their friends) to Consume Alcohol at Your Home - Some parents want to be the "cool parents." Others believe they might as well allow it at their home so it can be somewhat supervised, but whatever the reason, adults that provide alcohol to minors or allow minors to consume alcohol on their premises may face severe civil "social hosting" ramifactions as well as criminal charges. Whether an individual is a minor or not, if you're hosting a party, you should be monitering whether your guests are fit to drive home.
Some of the above are just a few examples of laws that may be considered harsher or more easily breached than might be expected. As is almost always the case, legal issues are fact sensitive, and therefore you should not rely upon the above but rather seek the advice of your own attorney who can provide you with advice based upon the specific facts or your own situation.
What are some other laws that you find to be surprisingly harsh? Are the above laws I mentioned surprisingly harsh or not harsh enough?