Muni-mail – App. Div: No Seatbelt can be a 3rd degree crime – State v. Lenihan

[08/15/12 – 9:25 am] On Monday, the Appellate Division ruled that the failure of a driver to make sure that a minor passenger is properly using a seatbelt can support a prosecution for the crime of knowingly failing to perform a duty imposed by law intended to protect public safety, as set forth under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-18. This crime is graded between fourth and second degree, depending upon the extent of the injuries sustained by the victim.

In the case published on Monday, captioned State v. Lenihan, the defendant operated a motor vehicle that had a 16-year old passenger in the front seat. Neither was wearing a seatbelt. The vehicle became involved in a serious accident, resulting in major injuries to both the defendant and her passenger. The passenger subsequently died. The New Jersey seatbelt statute, NJSA 39:3-76.2 makes the driver responsible for seeing to it that all minor passengers are properly using the vehicle’s seatbelts. Based upon this requirement in the seatbelt law, the defendant was indicted for a violation of NJSA 2C:40-18.

The Appellate Division ruled that the seatbelt law in New Jersey is broadly intended to protect not only individual people in motor vehicles but the public safety in a general sense. As a result, the failure of a driver to properly belt-in a minor who later sustains (at a minimum) significant bodily injury as a result of an accident can be prosecuted under NJSA 2C:40-18.

The Court’s ruling has extremely wide and serious implications for drivers who do not properly utilize seatbelts for infants, children and teenagers under the age of 18.

Link to State v. Lenihan:

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