A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can result in a range of penalties, including driver’s license suspension, a fine, use of an ignition interlock device (IID), and possibly even jail time. Under New Jersey law, DWI is classified as a motor vehicle offense rather than a criminal offense. This means that municipal courts hear DWI cases, and the maximum penalties for a conviction are less than they would be in many criminal cases. This is not to say, however, that a DWI conviction is not a very serious matter. Since municipal courts hear most cases involving motor vehicle offenses, a defendant charged with DWI might face charges of other motor vehicle offenses as well. Prosecutors might, in some cases, be willing to dismiss the DWI charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a different offense. This is not always an option, but it can be a way to avoid the more onerous penalties that might come with a New Jersey DWI conviction.
Unlike many other motor vehicle offenses in New Jersey, the penalties for DWI increase based on the number of prior convictions an individual has during the ten years before the current alleged offense. A first DWI conviction, with relatively low blood alcohol content, results in a fine of $250 to $400, possible jail time of up to thirty days, and suspension of one’s driver’s license until they install an IID in their vehicle. A third or subsequent conviction within ten years results in a mandatory jail sentence of 180 days, an eight-year license suspension, and a $1,000 fine.
Many DWI cases originate with a traffic stop by police. An officer must have reasonable suspicion of a motor vehicle or criminal offense in order to stop someone. This could include allegedly running a stop sign or a red light or driving erratically. In such cases, the state might charge a defendant not only with DWI, but also with whatever alleged motor vehicle offense or offenses prompted the traffic stop in the first place. In most cases, the potential penalties for other motor vehicle offenses are not as severe as they are for DWI.