What You Need to Know about DUI/DWI in New Jersey

Facing DUI/DWI charges in New Jersey? You are not alone. Every year, countless residents find themselves facing these serious charges, often unsure of where to turn or what to do next. The main goal of this article is to shed some light on the gravity of DUI/DWI charges in New Jersey and emphasize why securing an experienced New Jersey DUI attorney is not just advisable; it is essential.

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What is the Difference Between DWI and DUI in New Jersey?

In some states, DWI (driving while intoxicated) and DUI (driving under the influence) are terms that carry different meanings or imply varying degrees of impairment. However, in New Jersey, this distinction does not exist. The state uses these terms interchangeably to describe the offense of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Regardless of whether the term DUI or DWI is used, the law focuses on the impairment of the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. New Jersey law, specifically under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, states that a person is guilty of a DUI/DWI if they operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. But it is not just alcohol that can lead to a DUI/DWI charge; impairment due to prescription medications, illegal drugs, or even over-the-counter medications can also result in a DUI/DWI charge.

Penalties

How Does The State of New Jersey Classify Alcohol-Related Driving Offenses?

New Jersey takes DUI/DWI offenses seriously, with penalties increasing significantly with each offense.
The state classifies these offenses and assigns corresponding penalties as follows:

  • First Offense

    Depending on your BAC level, the penalties can include fines, a license suspension for up to 12 months, and mandatory attendance at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).

  • Second Offense

    The penalties increase to include higher fines, longer license suspension periods (up to 2 years), and possible jail time.

  • Third Offense (or more)

    For third and subsequent offenses, the penalties become even more severe, including a 10-year license suspension, significant fines, and mandatory jail time.

Other Fees

Other Fees and Surcharges

DUI/DWI offenses in New Jersey also carry additional financial burdens, including:

A $100 surcharge to the Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund

A Motor Vehicle Commission restoration fee of $100

A Violent Crimes Compensation Fund fee of $50

A Safe and Secure Community Program fee of $75

The state also mandates the installation of an ignition interlock device for certain offenses, adding to the financial and logistical consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction.

The Penalties for
Underage Driving:

In New Jersey, the law is particularly stringent on underage drinking and driving. If you are under 21 and caught driving with any alcohol in your system, you face severe penalties, even if your BAC is below the standard legal limit for adults. The penalties can include a license suspension for 30 to 90 days, community service, and mandatory participation in an alcohol education program at the IDRC.

The Penalties for Driving
with a Suspended License:

Driving with a suspended license, especially when that suspension is due to a DUI/DWI conviction, compounds your legal troubles significantly. The penalties for this offense are harsh and include additional license suspension, hefty fines, and potential jail time. This serves as a deterrent and emphasizes the importance of adhering to the terms of your initial suspension.

Is Jail Time Mandatory for a New Jersey DWI/DUI?

For first-time offenders, New Jersey law does not mandate jail time, but it is a possibility, especially if certain aggravating factors are present, such as a high BAC level or causing an accident while DUI/DWI. However, for second and subsequent offenses, jail time becomes part of the mandatory penalties. The law is designed to penalize repeat offenders more harshly, underlining the state’s commitment to reducing drunk driving incidents.

Scenario

What Happens When You Are
Stopped for a DWI/DUI in New Jersey?

Being stopped by law enforcement for a suspected DUI/DWI in New Jersey can be a stressful and confusing experience. Knowing what to expect can help you navigate this situation more effectively. Here is a rundown of what typically happens:

The officer will pull you over if they suspect you are driving under the influence, which could be due to erratic driving, a traffic violation, or passing through a DUI checkpoint.

The officer will observe your behavior, speech, and any signs of intoxication from the moment they approach your vehicle. They will ask for your license, registration, and insurance. They may also ask if you have been drinking or are under the influence of drugs.

This test measures your blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample. Again, a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered over the legal limit for drivers 21 and over in New Jersey.

If the officer believes there is enough evidence to charge you with a DUI/DWI, you will be arrested and taken to a local police station. Here, you will likely be asked to submit to a formal breath, blood, or urine test for alcohol or drugs.

Once at the station, you will be processed, which includes taking your personal information, fingerprinting, and possibly holding you until you are sober, someone comes to pick you up, or you are arraigned before a judge.

Rights

Understanding Your Rights During a
DUI/DWI Stop in New Jersey

If you are stopped in New Jersey on suspicion of DUI/DWI, knowing your rights is important. These rights are designed to protect you, and being aware of them can significantly impact the outcome of your situation. Here is what you need to know:

From the moment you are stopped, you have the right to remain silent. While you must provide your license, registration, and insurance information, you are not required to answer questions about where you have been, whether you have consumed alcohol or drugs, or any other inquiries that could incriminate you. Politely inform the officer that you are choosing not to speak without an attorney present. Do NOT share your story or try to explain your situation to law enforcement without an attorney present. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court.

In New Jersey, you have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) without direct legal penalties for the refusal itself. However, it is important to note that refusal can lead to further investigative steps by the officer, including a request for a Breathalyzer test.

You can refuse the handheld Breathalyzer test offered at the roadside without statutory penalties, but this refusal can be used by the officer as a basis to arrest you for DUI/DWI based on other observations.

Under New Jersey’s implied consent law, by driving on New Jersey roads, you have consented to submit to a Breathalyzer test if arrested for DUI/DWI. Refusal to submit to this test once taken to the police station can result in penalties, including a license suspension and fines, which are separate and in addition to any penalties for the DUI/DWI charge itself.

You have the right to consult with a New Jersey defense attorney as soon as practical after your arrest. While you might not be allowed to have an attorney present during the administration of a Breathalyzer test, securing legal representation immediately after is crucial for your defense.

Regardless of the circumstances leading to a DUI/DWI stop, you have the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination. This includes the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Preparation

What to Do When Preparing a DWI/DUI Defense in New Jersey

If you or someone you know is facing DWI/DUI charges in New Jersey, the single most critical step is to consult with an experienced New Jersey DUI attorney immediately. An attorney who specializes in DUI/DWI cases can offer invaluable advice, represent you throughout the legal process, and work to achieve the best possible outcome given your circumstances.

A skilled attorney will review the specifics of your case, including how the sobriety tests were conducted, the circumstances of your arrest, and whether your rights were respected throughout the process. They will also advise you on the best course of action, whether that is negotiating a plea deal, challenging the charges based on procedural errors or violations of your rights, or taking your case to trial.

DUI / DWI Lawyer

A DUI/DWI charge in New Jersey is a serious matter with potential long-term consequences. But with the right DUI attorney, New Jersey residents can navigate this challenging situation with confidence, knowing that they are doing everything possible to protect their future.