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Legal Blog: Is ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ Joe Giudice Driving on Thin Legal Ice?

Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.

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Joe refecting on moped ride_RHONJ

Real Housewives of New Jersey’s Joe Giudice may be the driving force behind the family while Teresa Giudice is in prison but should someone else be in the driver’s seat?

On “RHONJ: Teresa Checks In,” Joe was reportedly seen driving a moped. As previously covered exclusively by All About The Tea, Juicy Joe could be in hot legal water for violating a court order.

Joe Giudice had his driving license suspended for two years by a state judge who called his driving record, which included 39 license suspensions, the worst he’s ever seen. “This one takes the cake. This is by far the worst driver abstract I’ve ever seen in my professional life,” pronounced Superior Court Judge Adam Jacobs earlier this year. On RHONJ: Teresa Checks In, Joe remarks, “I got my license suspended for two years, jail time concurrent to federal.  Getting my license suspended right now is a pain in the a**. It’s almost like you’re locked up.” 

The former restaurant owner pled guilty to using his brother’s identity to obtain a license and unlawful use of an ID.  The court revoked his driving privileges for two years and he was fined the maximum of $10,000.  It has been reported that the fine will be paid in $500 increments every 30 days.  Passaic County prosecutors said Joe possessed a fraudulent license, obtaining it from the state Motor Vehicle Commission in Paterson in 2010, using his brother’s personal information while his own license was suspended for a drunk driving conviction.

Joe Giudice is preparing to head to federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.  His 41-month sentence starts in March.  Judge Jacobs expressed that Joe has a “general disrespect for the law.” The judge permitted Joe to drive home from court but said he would be sent to jail immediately if he drove again after that. “If you so much as back down your driveway … that will constitute a violation of the conditions of your release, of your bail, and it will result in you being remanded immediately to Passaic County Jail.”

Judge Jacobs, appointed to the court by Gov. Chris Christie in June 2011, was crystal clear that Joe cannot operate a motor vehicle. During an installment of RHONJ: Teresa Checks In, Joe ostensibly understood the judge’s warnings, expressing “The judge made it pretty clear that if he ever caught me behind the wheel he would basically throw me behind bars.  It is not worth it.”

In New Jersey, moped drivers are required by law to abide by the same traffic rules as motor vehicle drivers – as well as a few special traffic regulations.  To be able to drive a moped on a public road in New Jersey, you must be at least 15 years old with a valid moped, motorcycle, or basic driver license.  Drivers must also wear a helmet, as required by law, and obtain liability insurance.

Driving with a suspended or revoked license is one of the more serious motor vehicle offenses in the State of New Jersey. The law provides:

“No person to whom a driver’s license has been refused or whose driver’s license or reciprocity privilege has been suspended or revoked, or who has been prohibited from obtaining a driver’s license, shall personally operate a motor vehicle during the period of refusal, suspension, or prohibition.” 

But how is a motor vehicle defined?  Does that definition encompass the type of apparatus Joe Giudice was using on RHONJ: Teresa Checks In?

Under N.J.S.A. 39:1-1 you will find the definition of a motor vehicle. “Motor vehicle” includes all vehicles propelled otherwise than by muscular power, excepting such vehicles as run only upon rails or tracks and motorized bicycles.  A moped is a motorized bicycle or pedal bicycle with a helper motor under New Jersey law. Mopeds have less power than even the smallest motorcycle and lack the necessary standard equipment, such as turn signals and rearview mirrors.

On episode two of RHONJ: Teresa Checks In, attorney James J. Leonard Jr. asked Joe whether the mechanism has a motor. Then the founder of the Leonard Law Group posed the following questions: “This thing is not registered? It doesn’t need to be registered? You got a helmet for it?” What did you think of Joe’s response and these questions? 

Some posters commented that Joe did not violate the order since he operated, without a helmet, a moped on private property. However this private versus public distinction is legally irrelevant. Courts have overwhelmingly opted to apply a broad interpretation of the laws so that a person with a suspended license is prohibited from driving anywhere in the State of New Jersey, including on private streets or private property. Stated another way, it is NOT acceptable to drive on private property with a suspended license.

The statute itself makes no distinction between operating a vehicle on public roads or private property, as both are forbidden. “No person whose motor vehicle registration has been revoked shall operate or permit the operation of such motor vehicle during the period of such revocation,” denotes N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.

All About the Tea_RHONJ_Teresa Checks In

New Jersey does not have temporary, provisional or “work” licenses that permit drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked to lawfully operate a motor vehicle during certain hours of the day. A suspended driver in the State of New Jersey cannot drive at all for any reason, including to seek medical attention for a life-threatening emergency or to drive in a remote area where there is no public transportation.  Those looking for exceptions need not break the law in the first place. If a motorist loses his/her license for any reason, driving is not permitted until the period of suspension ends and the motorist receives a notice of restoration, according to the New Jersey Driver Manual. If one is caught driving while their license is suspended, he/she could face hefty fines and possible jail time.

I want All About The Tea readers to consider the forest through the “Tre Huggers” here:  Is Joe testing the boundaries of Judge Jacobs’ order? If you get close to the edge, you just might fall off of it.

No matter the method, it’s infuriating when people push against a rational structure set by the legal system.  It is akin to children testing their limits. Adults should inherently know to accept limits, an important skill learned and fostered during adolescence. Those children who do not learn where to draw the line perpetually get into hot water because they are always trying to establish a hierarchy of power (with them at the top); gain control; assert their needs to the detriment of others; and get what’s important to them at all costs since there is a lack of impulse control.  But freedom occurs when boundaries are established and followed.

What I want to impress upon posters is that the risk is not worth the reward.  Driving a moped, without a helmet, could have legally harmful consequences. At this point in time, Joe should act with complete deference to the judge’s orders. He should be a model citizen, and anything less threatens the integrity of his future legal arguments. Besides, the judicial process cannot work effectively to serve the public unless those under its authority respect the law.

Whether Joe driving a moped violated the court’s order is relevant but perhaps not more so than the fact that he is walking a legal tightrope. Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know what you think.

 

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