A defendant’s mental health issues and substance abuse treatment are mitigating factors that can impact a sentence and often overlooked. In State v. Bhavuk Uppal, Docket No. A-4094-17T3 (App. Div. 2020), the defendant was sentenced to twenty-one years in prison, following his June 2016 guilty pleas to three counts of second-degree reckless death by a vehicle (vehicular homicide), N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5A, DWI, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 and driving while suspended, N.J.S.A. 39:3-40. The Court (the NJ Appellate Division) affirmed (upheld) the sentence finding that the trial court adequately considered the mitigating and aggravating sentencing factors under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1. Significantly, the Court said,“the defendant had not been receptive to substance abuse treatment and because he remains untreated, he poses a considerable risk to re-offend.”
In State v. Francis Scanlon, A-1585-18T1 (March 2020), the Court had to decide whether a defendant, operating a John Deere tractor under the influence against traffic on the shoulder a highway, was operating a “motor vehicle” as defined in N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) and N.J.S.A. 39:1-1.
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) provides, “a person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant’s blood.” The term “motor vehicle” is defined in N.J.S.A. 39:1-1 as “all vehicles propelled otherwise than by muscular power, excepting such vehicles as run only upon rails or tracks, low-speed electric bicycles, low-speed electric scooters, and motorized bicycles” and “every device in, upon or by which a person or property is or may be transported upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks or low-speed electric bicycles, low-speed electric scooters, or motorized bicycles.” The Court noted that a tractor is not excluded under N.J.S.A. 39:1-1 and held that the term motor vehicle was broadly worded and intended to include a tractor. The defendant’s conviction was affirmed.