Is It Worth Fighting a DWI Charge in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, you should fight a DWI charge even if you believe you are guilty.
There are various layers of sentencing. For first offenders, there is a lower tier with a three month period when you driving privilege is restricted to the vehicle you principally operate after you install an ignition interlock device in it. There is a middle tier with a seven- to 12-month interlock restriction. Finally, there is an upper tier with actual revocation of your driving privilege for up to six months followed by a period of interlock restriction as long as 15 months. If you are a second and third offender, the consequences are much more severe, including hard revocation of up to two years, interlock restrictions thereafter for as long as four years, and mandatory jail time. In any of these cases, the Court imposed fines and assessments can total as much as $1,390, administrative surcharges and fees run more than $4,000, and there is mandatory attendance at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, an educational program for those convicted if DWI or breath test refusal.
Even if you are guilty as sin, hire an attorney to fight the charge. Even for first and second offenders, it’s worthwhile to try to mitigate the punishment, if not beat the charge.
One good thing about New Jersey is that the law does not classify DWI as a criminal offense. Penalties are limited and well-defined. The most a third or subsequent offender can get, for example, is six months in jail, fines, administrative surcharges and fees, and educational requirements. Despite the seriousness of the penalties, you are not entitled to a jury trial for DWI in New Jersey.
One thing that has really surprised me about DWI trials, even when there are high breath or blood test results, is how often prosecutors make mistakes on what we lawyers call foundation–those little building blocks that are the factual prerequisites 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, this can be the difference between winning or losing a case altogether or at least mitigating punishment. So, it’s actually worth fighting a DWI.
Beyond the Court-Imposed Sentence, How Can a DWI Conviction Affect Me?
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 later and can enhance other traffic offenses like driving while your privileges are suspended or another DWI or a breath test refusal.
A DWI conviction 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. When you are done with that, you may go back to new driver rates, which are about twice the normal rate.
There are occupational consequences for certain people. If you drive an Uber or Lyft, a DWI or breath test refusal conviction will prohibit your operating a taxi, limousine, or bus driving. A DWI or breath test refusal conviction will significantly impact 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. Nurses face significant reporting and rehabilitation requirements as a condition of continued nursing licensure. Pharmaceutical workers usually face termination. 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 serious. When you’re convicted of a crime, you lose your franchise, your right to vote. If you are convicted of DWI 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 pretty decent public transportation here in New Jersey, but it’s mostly a hub-and-spoke system. If you don’t live near the hub or on one of the spokes, commuting is very difficult. 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 most people, cars are essential, particularly if they are holding down more than one job or if they are going to school while they work or if they 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.
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