By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. a New Jersey Municipal Court Attorney

The facts of our previous post on the New Jersey seat belt law were that at approximately 12:39 a.m. an eighteen-year-old defendant was driving her vehicle southbound with her sixteen-year-old friend in the front passenger seat. Defendant lost control of the vehicle and it veered to the right, crossing the shoulder of the road, striking the guardrail head-on. Both the defendant and her friend were seriously injured and transported to a local hospital. Her friend died the following day.

Police officers investigating the scene determined that neither occupant of the car was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. They also found a can of aerosol dust remover and a can of carpet deodorizer on the driver’s side floor of the vehicle. The can of carpet deodorizer was missing the lid and nozzle.
Suspecting that the occupants in the car might have been inhaling or “huffing” the propellants in these cans to get high, the police requested that a blood sample be taken from defendant. Approximately forty-five minutes after the accident, defendant’s blood was drawn at the hospital and laboratory analysis later revealed that her blood sample contained a concentration of 1,1–Difluoroethane, a chemical compound that was also found in the can of dust remover.

On August 13, 2007, defendant was issued summonses charging her with her own failure and the failure of her friend to wear a seatbelt, driving under the influence, N.J.S.A. 39:4–50a;1 and reckless driving, N.J.S.A. 39:4–96. Defendant was later charged in a complaint with causing the death of her friend by driving recklessly, while under the influence of an inhalant within 1000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:11–5(b)(3)(a).

On February 24, 2009, a Sussex County grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging defendant with second-degree violation of a public safety law and recklessly causing her friend’s death, within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:11–5(b)(3)(a) (count three). Under count one, the predicate public safety law defendant was charged with violating was N.J.S.A. 39:3–76.2f, the “seat belt law.”

Defendant argued that the seat belt law was not a law intended to protect the public health and safety within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:40–18. The trial court denied defendant’s motion as to counts one and two of the indictment, and the State consented to the dismissal of count three. In our next blog, we will further develop the facts and laws of this case.

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