New Jersey DWI Attorney John Menzel

Understanding New Jersey DWI Penalties


A person holding a card with the text "DUI Penalties"

Facing a DWI charge is stressful and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In New Jersey, the terms DWI (driving while intoxicated) and DUI (driving while under the influence) are used interchangeably, and the penalties include a wide range of consequences. From driving privilege forfeiture to mandatory ignition interlock device installations and court-imposed fines, the punishment for DWI can be costly. What’s more, depending on whether it is a first, second, or third offense, you could face higher fines or mandatory jail time.

In this article, you will discover:

  • The different penalties that exist for first, second, and third DWI offenses in New Jersey.
  • Jail alternatives for those with DWI charges and how to access them.
  • How changes to DWI law in 2024 may impact your ability to drive before and after a conviction.

How Are DUIs Categorized?

When charged with a DUI, people are categorized based on their penalty exposure, which reflects the severity of the offense.

For first offenders charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, penalty exposure is typically described by three tiers: lower, middle, and upper. The three BAC tiers are based on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), as measured by a breathalyzer test.

  • Lower Tier: BAC between 0.01 and 0.10.
  • Middle Tier: BAC between 0.10 and 0.15.
  • Upper Tier: BAC of 0.15 or higher.

First offense charges based on drug impairment are in a separate category. Second and third offender penalties are severe regardless whether the offense involves alcohol or drugs. Additionally, commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders and individuals in occupations requiring special vehicle operation licenses face unique consequences as to their penalties and driving privileges.

Regardless of your particular situation, it’s crucial to understand the nuances of DWI law and how it applies to your situation in order to mount an effective defense. Given the severe consequences that can accompany a DWI conviction, seeking legal guidance is essential. You don’t have to go through this alone. A knowledgeable attorney can help navigate the legal process, advocate for your rights, and work towards achieving the best possible outcome in your case.

What Is the Typical Punishment for a First DUI Charge?

The most common and challenging punishment you are likely to face after a first DWI charge is license revocation. Fortunately, license revocation doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll lose your ability to drive altogether.

In New Jersey, regaining your driver’s license often involves installing an ignition interlock device (IID) and obtaining a physical driver’s license from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission as a condition of restoration. Once the IID is installed, you are restricted to driving the vehicle with the IID installed, and the installer monitors your compliance. Any infractions, such as missed fees, downloads, or high breath samples, are reported to the court, potentially extending the interlock period. If you don’t own or have access to a vehicle, the state may suspend your license for the entire duration of the time for which an interlock would have been required.

While fines are common, jail time for first offenders is rare, except in extreme cases such as those involving fatalities or severe injuries. Such DWI cases are usually associated with criminal charges like vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or child endangerment.

Attendance at an Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC) is mandatory for first and second offenders, with the center having the authority to recommend further education, evaluation, or treatment based on individual circumstances.

Finally, for individuals with a BAC of 0.15 or higher, additional IDRC classes may be required–and repeat offenders face more stringent IDRC conditions.

What Should I Know About Getting an IID Installed after a First DWI Offense in New Jersey?

When it comes to installing an ignition interlock device (IID), you have two options: either install the device in your car and certify this to the court, or declare under penalty of perjury that you don’t have a suitable vehicle for installation, leading to a license suspension for the IID period.

Installation fees for IIDs vary widely, with some installers charging nothing for installation or removal while others can charge up to $200 for these services. Monthly fees typically range from $50 to $150, and additional maintenance fees may apply, such as charges for calibration checks and device resets after lockouts.

Overall, the fees for IIDs encompass rental, leasing, and various service charges, which are determined by and paid to whichever IID installer you choose. And here’s a tip: This is a competitive market, so shopping around can be beneficial. It’s advisable to explore different installers and their offerings as the fees can vary.

What Are the Penalties for a DWI Drug Conviction in New Jersey?

For a first offense of driving under the influence of drugs, the penalty structure differs from alcohol-related offenses. There’s no IID requirement. Instead, a hard license revocation for six to 12 months is imposed, during which time you’re prohibited from driving altogether. Fines range from $300 to $500.

What Are the Penalties for a Second DUI Conviction in New Jersey?

For second offenders, regardless of whether the offense involves drugs or alcohol, a hard license revocation period of one to two years is imposed, during which driving privileges are entirely suspended. Restoration of driving privileges is contingent upon the installation of an IID, which must remain in the vehicle for a period of two to four years as determined by the judge.

Fines for second offenders increase, ranging from $500 to $1,000. Also, there’s a mandatory jail term of no less than two and no more than 90 days. Typically, judges sentence offenders to serve two days, which may be commuted to 48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC), where alcohol education and evaluation take place. IDRC may also recommend further education, evaluation, or treatment based on individual circumstances.

Furthermore, second offenders must complete 30 days of community service, with “one day” equating to six hours of service. Those who are employed are expected to complete one day of community service per week, while unemployed individuals must complete two days per week.

What Are the Penalties for a Third DWI Conviction in New Jersey?

Third DWI offenders face severe penalties, including six months in jail and an eight-year loss of driving privileges. This period of eight years must be served before your license can be reinstated. Following the eight-year hard revocation period, driving is restricted to vehicles equipped with the IID for two to four years.

The fine for third offenders is fixed at $1,000, and the jail term is 180 days–the minimum and the maximum penalty-–but proactive steps such as undergoing inpatient alcohol rehabilitation may lead to a day-for-day credit of up to 90 days. In these cases, rehabilitation is viewed as a more constructive alternative to jail, offering opportunities for personal growth and interaction. Nonetheless, it is still part of a period of confinement for 180 days.

In addition to jail time, courts may impose 12 to 48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). Regardless of whether IDRC attendance is part of the sentence, the Motor Vehicle Commission requires offenders to complete IDRC sessions during the year preceding eligibility for driving privilege reinstatement. It’s crucial to be aware of this requirement, even with the lengthy revocation period, by marking it on a long-term calendar.

Are There Alternatives to Jail for DUI Offenders in New Jersey?

Many people are curious about alternatives to jail, but several options that were once available are no longer permitted. The Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP), weekend jail terms, work release, and outpatient treatment credits are no longer options.

However, individuals may receive retroactive credit for inpatient alcohol rehabilitation completed before sentencing, although this is only allowable at the judge’s discretion. In my experience, this credit is rarely denied, except in cases where it’s clear the individual is attempting to manipulate the system.

If you believe you have an alcohol problem and require inpatient treatment, it’s advisable to seek help before conviction. However, it’s essential to do so out of genuine need, not with the intention of seeking leniency from the court. Remember: In-patient credit against jail is not about leniency but about where you are confined.

What Happens If You Refuse a Breathalyzer Test During a DWI Investigation In New Jersey?

Breath Test Refusal is a serious offense with penalties similar to those for drunk driving convictions. If you refuse to take a breath test when arrested for DWI, you’ll face significant consequences, such as:

  • Indefinite driving privilege revocation, subject to Ignition Interlock Device (IID) installation.
  • Court-imposed fines and fees.
  • Potential additional education, evaluation, or treatment as determined by the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC).
  • And more…

For first offenders convicted of both DWI and refusal, the judge may run penalties consecutively or concurrently, with fines typically imposed consecutively and IDRC attendance imposed concurrently. For second or subsequent offenses of DWI and refusal, penalties must run consecutively, resulting in longer revocation and interlock periods.

For example, if you are charged with a second DUI with breath test refusal, you’ll likely face two to four years of license revocation as opposed to one to two years. Similarly, third offenders will face 16 years of license revocation for a DUI with breath test refusal, as opposed to eight years of revocation.

All offenders face fines, surcharges, and administrative fees, which may be payable in installments over time. Administrative consequences for DWI and refusal are treated as a single event by the Motor Vehicle Commission rather than two separate offenses. Administrative fees for IDRC participation, restoration, and merit rating plan surcharges apply, and if convicted of both DWI and breath test refusal, these fees will run concurrently.

John Menzel, J.D.

John Menzel, J.D.: Dedicated DWI Defense in New Jersey. With over 30 years of experience, committed to protecting your license, your freedom, and your reputation. Let's work together to beat that charge.

Request a Consultation Session (732) 218-9090

What Fines Are Associated with DWI Offenses in New Jersey?

Anyone who is convicted of DWI in New Jersey will face fines, fees, and various court-imposed assessments. In addition to fines and court costs, the court assesses DWI offenders for a $50 Victims of Crime Assessment (VCCA), $75 for the Safe Neighborhoods Services Fund (SNSF), $00 for the Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund (DDEF), and an additional $125 surcharge.

There are also administrative surcharges and fees, including a $100 restoration fee, $100 countermeasures fee, and so-called Merit Rating Plan surcharges of between $3,000 and $4,500 payable in installments over three years to the Motor Vehicle Commission as well as program fees ranging from $264 to $321, adjusted annually based on the Consumer Price Index. What’s more, the IDRC may extend your participation requirement for further education, evaluation, or treatment.. If you are found guilty of both a DUI offense and a breath test refusal, you will only face one set of administrative consequences as the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission looks at this as a single event, not as two separate charges.

For second and third offenders, ignition interlock restrictions are similar, but the driving privilege forfeitures differ greatly. Second offenders face a one to two-year license revocation followed by two to four years of interlock requirement. Third offenders endure an eight-year license revocation followed by two to four years of interlock.

How Much Does a DUI Conviction Cost in New Jersey?

The total costs associated with a DWI conviction currently range between $4,004 and $7,551. But this figure does not include expenses for the alcohol ignition interlock device, legal fees, additional alcohol treatment mandated by the IDRC, or the inevitable increase in car insurance premiums—typically two to four times higher for three years.

Because of the high costs associated with extended periods of interlock service, increased car insurance, and more, second and third offenders may find it more financially reasonable to forgo vehicle ownership altogether for a period of time.

Determining how to move forward can be difficult when you don’t fully grasp the consequences of one decision or another. If you’re looking for more information, you can visit https://www.nj.gov/lps/hts/alcohol.html to read the statutes that define the various fines, driving privilege forfeitures, jail, community service requirements, IDRCs (Intoxicated Driving Resource Centers), as well as the surcharges and fees. Alternatively, please feel free to contact our firm for a comprehensive overview of your case.

What Are the Revised Penalty Provisions under the New February 2024 DUI Laws?

As of February 19, 2024, new DWI legislation keeps in place the penalty structure that came into effect on December 1, 2019. However, revised penalty provisions are now in effect.

For one, if you are charged with DWI, you can now choose to proactively install an alcohol ignition interlock device before the conclusion of your case. This may be particularly beneficial for those who are charged with upper-tier first-time DWI offenses as it allows you to get credit against a portion of the potential license suspension period before you are ever convicted.

To take this route, you will follow these steps:

  • Have an alcohol ignition interlock device installed in a vehicle you own, lease, or principally operate.
  • Bring a copy of the interlock installer’s certification to the Motor Vehicle Commission.
  • Submit documentation about the pending charges within seven days of receiving the installer’s certificate.
  • Obtain a license from the Motor Vehicle Commission with the interlock restriction imprinted on it.

To qualify for this interlock provision, you must meet these eligibility requirements:

  • Hold a New Jersey driver’s license in good standing from the date you are charged until the date you are convicted.
  • DWI charges must not stem from a motor vehicle accident involving serious bodily injury.

Of course, while the new law in New Jersey offers potential benefits for certain offenders, it does raise concerns regarding equal protection for individuals with out-of-state licenses and full faith and credit among states. Although it is doubtful that prosecutors would be permitted to argue that you got the interlock because you knew you were drunk–what lawyer’s call “an adverse inference against a defendant”–the issue is technically unresolved. Also, if a driver chooses to hedge by installing the interlock device, it may be for naught if we beat the DWI charge.

The option to install an alcohol ignition interlock device can be particularly beneficial for those facing upper-tier first offenses, second offenses, or third offenses because of the driving privilege forfeitures mandated if convicted. What’s more, for every two days the interlock is installed, one day of credit is earned against any future driving privilege forfeiture. This can be especially useful for upper-tier first offenders because, if your case takes 9-12 months to resolve, you can avoid losing your driving privileges altogether. Even those people who only face an interlock restriction without a driving privilege forfeiture can benefit from the hedge because the new statute exempts them from paying fines if convicted of DWI. However, surcharges, fees, and assessment still apply.

Still, if you’re considering this option, you should carefully weigh the potential savings in fines against the monthly costs of the interlock device, keeping in mind that most DWI cases extend over six months or longer. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced DWI attorney for a case evaluation to ensure you’re making the right decision for you.

How Does the February 2024 DWI Legislation Impact CDL Holders Convicted of DUI in New Jersey?

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders face significant consequences if they receive a DWI charge–even while driving their personal vehicle. Under current regulations, first offenders risk losing their CDL endorsement for one to three years, with hazardous material endorsement holders facing the longer end of that spectrum.

Another recent change to DWI legislation in New Jersey, effective for offenses on or after February 19, 2024, has altered the penalty structure for repeat offenders. Previously, subsequent DWI convictions led to a lifetime revocation of the CDL endorsement. Now, the penalty ranges from 10 years to a lifetime revocation. This is critical as it opens the door for some offenders to regain their CDL after an extended period of time.

Finally, if the defendant is involved in certain criminal activities such as drug or human trafficking, there is a lifetime CDL revocation without the possibility of reinstatement.

Can You Plea Bargain a DWI Charge In New Jersey?

Historically, plea bargaining DWI cases was prohibited. The amendments to the DWI statute effective February 19, 2024, permit plea bargaining. However, a complication arose due to the prohibition of plea bargaining DWIs under then existing court rules. The conflict stems from New Jersey’s unique state constitution, where rules governing practice and procedure established by the Supreme Court take precedence over legislative statutes on such matters. This legal principle has been upheld through various court cases, including Winbury v. Salisbury, State v. Brimage, and, most notably, State v. Hessen.

Plea bargaining is within the domain of the courts. As such, court rules will override conflicting legislative statutes that may permit plea bargaining. But by order entered February 23, 2024, our Supreme Court withdrew the rule prohibiting plea bargaining DWI cases “as a matter of comity” between the courts and the legislature.

So, here’s the bottom line: If you are charged with a DWI for any reason, it’s imperative to consult with an attorney who is up to date on the latest developments in the law and who can effectively represent your best interests.

If you’re ready to get started, our firm would be happy to speak with you. For more information on DUI Law In New Jersey, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the answers you need by calling (732) 218-9090 today.

John Menzel, J.D.

John Menzel, J.D.: Dedicated DWI Defense in New Jersey. With over 30 years of experience, committed to protecting your license, your freedom, and your reputation. Let's work together to beat that charge.

Request a Consultation Session (732) 218-9090