Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers

Common Misconceptions About New Jersey DWI Charges

Being charged with a DWI in New Jersey is a far bigger deal than many drivers make it out to be. DWI charges are more than just inconveniences. They are criminal charges that carry lasting complications.

One of the largest misconceptions about DWIs and DUIs is that they are only traffic offenses. In truth, DWIs are serious offenses that carry significant penalties similar to criminal charges. The penalties for DWI charges increase each time you are convicted of a new DWI. While penalties for a first offense might seem mild, they get much harsher with each subsequent offense. In some cases, jail time becomes a very real possibility, and you could be locked up for quite some time. On top of that, a DWI remains on your record forever. Since DWIs are technically not criminal charges, they cannot be expunged.

Our Pennsylvania DUI defense attorneys at Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates can be reached at (609) 257-4019 for a free case review.

What Are the Penalties for DWI in New Jersey?

Again, a major misconception about DWIs is that they are minor offenses. This misunderstanding is likely rooted in the fact that DWIs are technically not criminal charges because they are contained within the state’s motor vehicle code. However, DWIs might still carry significant penalties even though they are technically motor vehicle violations and not crimes. If you are facing DWI charges, speak to our DWI defense attorneys about how to fight the charges and hopefully avoid serious penalties.

First Offense

A person’s very first DWI or DUI offense usually carries the most lenient penalties. Even so, the penalties should not be disregarded as they can still create serious complications in your everyday life.

According to N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50(a)(1), the penalties for first-time offenders vary based on blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The higher your BAC, the more significant the penalties for a DWI conviction, even for a first-time offense.

You can also be charged with a general intoxication DWI. This means the police do not necessarily need an exact BAC measurement to charge you. Instead, they may use personal observation (e.g., slurred speech, difficulty walking, an odor of alcohol) to justify an arrest for a DWI.

If your BAC is at least .08% but still less than .10%, you face a fine of not less than $250 and up to $400. You might also be detained for 12 to 48 hours and possibly sentenced to jail for up to 30 days. You must also surrender your license until you install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.

If, for your first DWI conviction, your BAC was at least .10% but less than .15%, you may be fined at least $300 but not more than $500, detained for 12 to 48 hours, and sentenced to a jail term of no longer than 30 days. You will also lose your driver’s license until you install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.

Finally, for a first offense, if your BAC was .15% or higher, you will lose your driver’s license for no less than 4 months and no longer than 6 months after installing an interlock ignition device in your case. You will also face the penalties mentioned previously, including fines and potential jail time.

Second Offense

The penalties are no longer broken down by BAC level if you are convicted of a second DWI or DUI offense. Instead, there is just one set of penalties regardless of how high or low your BAC was during the alleged DWI incident.

The penalties include a fine of at least $500 but less than $1,000, 30 days of community service, at jail time of no less than 48 hours but not more than 90 days. While these penalties are costly, inconvenient, and somewhat frightening, the real penalty is losing your driver’s license.

After a second conviction, a defendant might lose their driver’s license for at least 1 full year but no longer than 2 years. To make matters more difficult, your license is not automatically reinstated once the suspension period ends. Instead, you must reapply for a driver’s license through the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and your application is not guaranteed approval. If your license is restored, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.

Third or Subsequent Offense

The penalties may be very harsh if you are charged and convicted of a third or subsequent DWI or DUI in New Jersey. According to the law, a person convicted of their third DWI may be fined at least $1,000 and sentenced to jail for at least 180 days, which is about 6 months. You might also lose your driver’s license for a very long time. Under the law, you could lose your license for 8 years. You should immediately call our DWI defense attorneys for help if you face any DWI charges.

Who Can be Charged with a DWI in New Jersey?

Not only may drivers be charged with DWIs, but the owners of a vehicle might also be charged even if they were not the ones driving. Suppose the authorities believe you knowingly allowed an intoxicated person to drive your vehicle. In that case, you might also be charged with a DWI even though you were neither driving nor intoxicated.

To be charged as a driver, you must be operating the vehicle. Courts have long debated what it means to “operate” a motor vehicle while intoxicated and have reached a consensus. Operating a vehicle requires having actual physical control over the vehicle. This means you do not necessarily have to drive on the road to be charged if you have actual physical control over the car.

Being in the front seat with the vehicle on is often enough to establish that someone was in physical control of a vehicle. You might be able to argue against this if you were not in the front seat or did have the keys in the vehicle.

Is Jail Time Always Mandatory for a DWI in New Jersey?

As discussed above, potential penalties for DWI and DUI convictions include jail time. Possible jail time might range from a few days to a few weeks to a few months or longer. However, jail time is not necessarily mandatory in all cases, and the court has the discretion to impose different sentences on convicted defendants.

Generally, you have a better chance of avoiding jail time if you are a first-time offender, your alleged BAC was relatively low, and nobody was hurt in the DWI incident. After a second conviction, mandatory jail time is on the table, but the minimum sentence is 48 hours, which might be suspended. Our DWI defense attorneys can help you convince the court to forgo jail time or suspend your sentence.

Mandatory jail time might be harder to avoid after a third or subsequent conviction, and there is a mandatory minimum penalty of 180 days in jail. However, the court might reduce your jail time by up to 90 days if you complete an alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program.

Does a DWI Stay on Your Criminal Record in New Jersey?

Since DWIs and DUIs are technically not criminal charges, they are not reflected on your criminal record. However, they are reflected in your driving history. This history may be used if you are ever pulled over for a traffic violation or go to reapply for a driver’s license.

While normal criminal charges can be expunged and removed from your record, DWI convictions do not enjoy the same treatment. In short, DWIs are often permanent and remain on your record forever. However, removing a DWI from your record through a post-conviction relief petition might be possible. A petition for post-conviction relief is similar to a direct appeal but based on more limited circumstances. Our DWI defense attorneys can help you determine if such a petition could help you.

Answers From Our New Jersey DWI Defense Attorneys

Interviewer: So when people come to you, and they’ve been accused of DUI, what are some of the top misconceptions they have that you have to dispel right off the bat?

Paul: Well, in New Jersey, the biggest misconception is that people think it’s a simple traffic matter. They don’t realize the severity of the punishments that the State of New Jersey imposes upon people convicted of a DWI. Specifically, most people are shocked to know that even the lowest tier of a DWI is a three-month loss of license. And what they also don’t realize is there is no such thing as a work license or an occupational limited license in New Jersey. They just think that they’ll at least be able to drive to work, and that’s not true.

Interviewer: What are some of the other misconceptions people have? First, it sounds like it’s not a very serious thing; maybe they could just try to handle it on their own without an attorney. That’s a misconception. What other misconceptions do they have?

Paul: The other real big misconception is that people think that the charges of a DWI can be dropped because New Jersey had quite a long and lengthy history of lawyers having the ability to plea bargain the cases. It has been explicitly determined through legal cases that you can no longer plea bargain down a DWI.

In fact, it was the State of New Jersey vs. Hessen that prohibits plea agreements in municipal court drunk driving cases. So, the alternative is that you have to have an attorney who knows how to fight the charge because in fighting that ticket, you can have the charges reduced or dismissed by the prosecutor. Possibly, they can be amended to a lesser charge, something other than a DWI, but not out of any favor, but out of principled argument and legal facts that would allow the prosecutor to come to that determination.

Call Our DWI Defense Attorneys for Help Now

For a free case review, call our DWI defense attorneys at Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates at (609) 257-4019.