New Jersey DWI Attorney John Menzel

Understanding DWI Penalties In New Jersey


A person holding a card with the text "DUI Penalties"Facing a DUI charge is stressful and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In New Jersey, the terms DUI and DWI are used interchangeably, and the penalties cover a wide range of consequences. From driving privilege forfeiture to mandatory ignition interlock device installations and court-imposed fines, the punishment for DUIs can be costly. What’s more, depending on whether it is your 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 DUI offenses in New Jersey.
  • Jail alternatives for those with DUI 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-time offenders, penalty exposure is typically assessed in three tiers: lower, middle, and upper, or based on drug impairment. These tiers primarily consider 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.

Yes, indeed. Second and third offenders face distinct penalties, regardless of whether their offense involves alcohol or drugs. Additionally, commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders and individuals in occupations requiring special vehicle operation licenses face unique considerations regarding their penalties and driving privileges.

Regardless of your particular situation, it’s crucial to understand the nuances of DUI 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-Time DUI Charge?

The most common and challenging punishment you are likely to face after a first-time DUI 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) as a condition. Once the IID is installed, 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. (Unfortunately, if you don’t own or have access to a vehicle, the state may suspend your license for the entire duration of the interlock requirement.)

While fines are common, jail time for first-time offenders is rare, except in extreme cases such as those involving fatalities or severe injuries. Furthermore, attendance at an Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC) is mandatory for first-time 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 penalties.

What Should I Know About Getting An IID Installed After A First-Time DUI 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 interlock period.

Installation fees for IIDs vary widely, with some installers charging nothing while others can charge up to $200 for installation or removal. Monthly fees typically range from $50 to $100, and additional maintenance fees may apply, such as charges for device resets after lockouts.

Overall, the fees for interlock devices 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 DUI 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 requirement for an alcohol ignition interlock device (IID), but instead, a hard license revocation period of seven to 12 months is imposed, during which time you’re prohibited from driving. Additionally, fines typically range from $300 to $500 for this offense.

What Are The Penalties For A Second-Time DUI Conviction In New Jersey?

For second-time 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 ignition interlock device (IID), which must remain in the vehicle for a period of two to four years as determined by the judge.

Fines for second-time offenders increase, ranging from $500 to $1,000. Additionally, 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-time offenders are required to 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-Time DUI Conviction In New Jersey?

Third-time DWI offenders face severe penalties, including an eight-year loss of driving privileges. This period of eight years must be served before your license can be reinstated, contingent on an alcohol ignition interlock device (IID) being installed in a vehicle owned, leased, or regularly operated by the offender. 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-time offenders is fixed at $1,000, and the jail term is 180 days, with no range. 180 days of jail time is 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.

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, 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 or after conviction. However, it’s essential to do so out of genuine need, not with the intention of seeking leniency from the court.

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-time offenders convicted of both DWI and refusal, the judge may decide to run penalties consecutively or concurrently, with fines typically imposed consecutively and IDRC attendance 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-time 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-time offenders will face four to eight years of license revocation for a DUI with breath test refusal, as opposed to the typical two to four years of revocation.

Furthermore, all offenders face fines, surcharges, and administrative fees, which may be payable in installments over time. Fortunately, however, administrative consequences for DWI and refusal are treated as a single event by the Motor Vehicle Commission.

Finally, it’s important to note that 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.

What Fines Are Associated With DWI Offenses In New Jersey?

Anyone who is convicted of DWI in New Jersey will face fines, fees, and a drunk driving enforcement fund surcharge. There are also administrative surcharges amounting to somewhere between $3,000 and $4,500, which are payable in installments over three years.

Fortunately, in the case that 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-time offenders, penalties remain similar. Second-time offenders face a one to two-year license revocation followed by two to four years of interlock requirement. Third-time offenders endure an eight-year license revocation followed by two to four years of interlock.

Fines can escalate up to $1,000, accompanied by participation in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). The IDRC program fee ranges 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.

Additionally, one-time fees, such as the program fee, restoration fee, and merit rating plan surcharges are levied after DWI offenses. If convicted of both DWI and refusal, administrative fees are concurrent.

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. However, this figure does not encompass expenses such as 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 a duration of three years.

Because of the high costs associated with extended periods of interlock service, increased car insurance, and more, second and third–time 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 19th, 2024, new DWI legislation keeps in place the penalty structure that came into effect on December 1st, 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 serve 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.
  • Obtain a license from the Motor Vehicle Commission with the interlock restriction imprinted on it.
    • Remember to bring a copy of the interlock installer’s certification to this appointment to confirm the device’s installation.
  • Submit documentation about the pending charges within 7 days of receiving notice that you are eligible for this interlock provision.

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

  • You must hold a New Jersey driver’s license in good standing until the date of conviction.
  • The 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. Additionally, there may be implications related to the full faith and credit obligation among states.

In any case, the option to install an alcohol ignition interlock device can be particularly beneficial for those facing upper-tier first-time offenses, second-time offenses, or third-time offenses. This is particularly because those who use this opportunity will be exempt from paying fines upon conviction of a DWI. So, although other surcharges and fees still apply, you may be able to save $250-$1,000 in fines, depending on the nature of your case.

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-time offenders because, if your case takes 9-12 months to resolve, you can avoid losing your driving privileges altogether.

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.

If charged with DWI while driving your personal vehicle in New Jersey with a CDL license, you’ll face a six-month suspension of your driving privilege. Additionally, under current regulations, first-time offenders risk losing their CDL endorsement for one to three years, with hazardous material endorsement holders facing the longer end of that spectrum.

Meanwhile, a recent change to DWI legislation in New Jersey, (effective February 19th, 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 does open the door for some offenders to regain their CDL after an extended period of time.

Finally, it’s important to note that if you are involved in certain criminal activities such as drug-related offenses or human trafficking, you will face a lifetime CDL revocation without the possibility of reinstatement.

Can You Make A Plea Bargain For A DWI Charge In New Jersey?

In New Jersey, there’s a restriction on plea bargaining, particularly concerning Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) cases. Prosecutors, post-February 19th, 2024, will be permitted to offer recommendations within the confines of the newly revised penalties. However, a complication arises due to the prohibition of plea bargaining for DWIs under existing court rules.

The conflict stems from New Jersey’s unique state constitution, where procedural administrative rules that are established by the Supreme Court hold precedence over legislative statutes. What’s more, this legal principle has been upheld through various court cases, including Winburg v. Salisbury, State v. Brimage, and most notably, State v. Hessen.

So, plea bargaining is considered to be within the domain of the courts. As such, court rules will override legislative statutes that may permit plea bargaining. Of course, the resolution of this legal conflict is uncertain as it stands today – but it is likely to be resolved when the Supreme Court uses its authority to establish and interpret procedural rules. While this could lead to a revision of court guidelines, it’s unlikely the court would yield to legislative pressure to permit plea bargaining in DWI cases.

So, what does this mean for you? The bottom line is that, 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.

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