New Jersey DWI Attorney John Menzel

Is It Worth Fighting a DWI Charge in New Jersey?


In New Jersey, you should fight a DWI charge even if you are guilty. There are various layers of sentencing. For first offenders, we have a lower-tier–three months with an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle and various other requirements such as hundreds of dollars in fines and thousands of dollars in surcharges. We also have a middle tier–a longer period with the interlock restriction. Finally, there is an upper tier, which involves actual revocation of your driving privileges, followed by a much longer period of the interlock restriction. Even if you are guilty as sin, hiring an attorney to fight the charges is worth it to mitigate those punishments.

Of course, if you are a second and third offender, the consequences are much more severe. There is hard revocation and mandatory jail time. To try to avoid those, you absolutely should hire an attorney.

One good thing about New Jersey is that a DWI is not classified as a criminal offense. The penalties are limited; the most a third or subsequent offender can get, for example, is six months in jail, fines run a little less than $1,400, plus a little over $4,000 in surcharges and fees on top of educational requirements. While that is very serious and we want to avoid those, it doesn’t entitle you to a jury in New Jersey. We are a state where you will never get a jury trial for DWI. But even for first and second offenders, it’s worthwhile to try to mitigate the punishment, if not beat the charge.

One things that has really surprised me about DWI trials, even when there are high breath or blood test results, is how often the prosecutors make mistakes on what we lawyers call foundation–those little building blocks that are the factual information needed to demonstrate that a breath test result or blood test result is reliable. I’m not exaggerating to say that, about half of the time, I’ll get a breath test result excluded because a prosecutor makes some mistake on foundation. Very often, that can be the difference between winning a case altogether and losing. At the very least, it can substantially mitigate the punishment. So, it’s actually worth fighting a DWI.

A bad thing about drunk driving not being considered a crime is that it will be classified as a traffic offense; it will be on your driving record forever. It cannot be expunged like many crimes can. That’s significant because it can become an aspect of criminal sentencing if you do get charged with a crime that relates to DWI, and it can certainly enhance other traffic offenses like driving while your privileges are suspended or another DWI or a breath test refusal.

It also has other collateral consequences affecting insurance rates in a big way. In New Jersey, car insurance can go up two to four times after a DUI conviction. That would last for three years from the time the insurance company finds out about the conviction until it runs its course. Then, when you are done with that, you are back on new driver rates, which are about twice the normal rate.

Then, there are occupational consequences for certain people. If you drive an Uber or Lyft, forget about that–no taxi driving, no bus driving. It will have a significant impact on a commercial driver’s license, causing revocation for one to three years for a first offense and lifetime for a second or subsequent offense. In many states, lifetime means ten years, but in New Jersey, lifetime means lifetime. You’ve got to watch out for those collateral consequences and keep a conviction off your record if at all possible.

Is a DWI Charge as Damaging as a Criminal Charge in New Jersey?

In practical terms, a DWI charge is very serious. When you’re convicted of a crime, you lose your franchise, your right to vote. If you get convicted of DUI in New Jersey, you are not going to lose your right to vote, but you’ve still got to figure out how to get to the supermarket, how to pick up the kids from school or take them to Little League, and how to get to and from work.

We have some pretty decent public transportation here in New Jersey, but the problem is, it’s essentially like a hub-and-spoke system. If you don’t live near the hub or one of the spokes, commuting is very difficult. You do need a car, and even though we are very densely populated and have some fairly extensive public transportation, we are not quite like New York City, where it might actually be preferable to live without a car. There are people that can do that here, but for the most part, cars are essential, particularly if you are holding down more than one job or you are going to school while you work, or if you have kids.

For more information on Fighting a DWI Charge in New Jersey, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (732) 218-9090 today.

John Menzel, J.D.

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