N.J. Police Can Seize DWI Suspects' Vehicles
It took a senseless tragedy to bring it to life, but "John's Law" gives police in New Jersey the authority to seize the vehicles of suspected drunken drivers and hold them for up to 12 hours.
The new law, which went into effect August 1, 2001, was first introduced after William Elliott used his son's tragic death to persuade lawmakers to make New Jersey's DWI laws a bit tougher.
Elliott's son was Navy Ensign John R. Elliott, who was killed July 22, 2000 in a head-on collision with a vehicle whose driver had been charged with drunk driving earlier that night.
Michael Pangle, 37, was arrested with a blood-alcohol content of 0.21, more than twice the legal limit for drivers in New Jersey, and was taken to the state police barracks. State police let Pangle leave when a friend came to pick him up.
Three hours later, Pangle was driving the same sport-utility vehicle in which he had been arrested earlier when it crossed the center line on U.S. 40 in Pittsgrove Township and struck Elliott's 1994 Nissan Ultima, killing both men at the scene.
Friend Held Accountable
The friend who picked Pangle up from the barracks, 39-year-old Kenneth Powell, was charged with manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and aggravated assault, because police say, he was an accomplice to the accident even though he was not directly involved. His trail ended in a hung jury.
"The law goes a long way toward ensuring that anyone who is arrested for driving while under the influence will simply not have access to their vehicle for half a day following their arrest," Attorney General John J. Farmer Jr. told reporters.
The state Division of Criminal Justice has established guidelines for all state law enforcement agencies on how to administer the new law. A DWI suspect's vehicle can be released in less than 12 hours, but only if the person taking custody of the suspect agrees to sign a written warning informing them of their personal liability in the situation.
A Good Example
If the person refuses to sign, the vehicle will remain impounded for 12 hours after the arrest and only then can be released to the suspect, Farmer said.
Drunk driving laws vary from state-to-state. Many states still have policies that permit DUI, DWI or OUI suspects to be released without bond to any family member or friend who picks them up from the police station or jail facility.
It is assumed by police that the person taking custody of the drunk driver is also taking responsibility for them and driving them home, but many times it is simply not the case. "John's Law" applies only to New Jersey, but it seems to be a good example for all states to follow.