This defendant became intoxicated in a social situation in which she could have easily called a cab, asked a friend for a ride home, been driven home by her husband, or simply spent the night. She made no arrangements to protect others from her state of inebriation.
In the written statement defendant delivered to the court before resentencing, she said being served the divorce complaint triggered “the closest I have ever come to completely falling apart.” It is remarkable that years after the incident, in writing to the sentencing judge, defendant still did not identify the crash, which killed one person and severely injured another, and the inebriation that led to it, as the worst moment of her life. That should have been of concern to the trial judge; it was not, and he did not factor it in when calculating defendant’s risk to reoffend.
The law does not support the judge’s virtual rejection of aggravating factor nine. Deterrence is acknowledged to be one of the most important considerations in sentencing, for the future protection of the public. The concept “incorporates” not only deterrence of the individual defendant, but also the public in general.
In more typical situations, general deterrence sometimes has relatively little weight in the sentencing balance. But this is an offense which by its very nature makes general deterrence absolutely meaningful.
It is undisputed that year after year, drunken driving needlessly takes lives, inflicts physical injuries, and causes monetary loss. Since State v. Tischio (1987), hundreds of opinions have been written in this State, and thousands of sentences handed down, attempting to address the ongoing problem. “The primary purpose behind New Jersey’s drunk-driving statutes is to curb the senseless havoc and destruction caused by intoxicated drivers.” Since Tischio, courts have struggled to stop driving by individuals who are “a menace to themselves and to all others who use the roadways in this State.”
The Court seems to parrot the arguments made by the prosecution regarding their taking umbrage with the defendant’s statements about how her divorce affected her. In citing to Tischio, the court overlooks that in 1987, vehicular homicide was a fourth-degree offense most often punished by probation out of recognition that an accidental killing by someone with no prior record is not to be punished in the same manner as intentional acts causing death or serious bodily injury. Now, those convicted of vehicular homicide are subject to the same sentencing terms as rapists and robbers.