Articles Posted in DWI Information

In New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) is not a criminal offense in most situations. Instead, it is a motor vehicle offense, defined in the same chapter of New Jersey law as offenses like reckless driving and driving with a suspended license. A conviction for DWI can still lead to significant penalties, including up to 180 days in jail, fines, and lengthy periods of driver’s license suspension. New Jersey law allows prosecutors to charge a person with one or more criminal offenses in connection with a DWI in certain circumstances. When a person allegedly commits DWI while a minor is a passenger in their vehicle, prosecutors can charge them with a misdemeanor-level offense. If the alleged offense involves a significant amount of risk to the child’s safety, the state can charge a person with the more serious offense of endangering the welfare of a child (EWC).

The EWC statute does not specifically mention DWI, but prosecutors have applied it to such situations on many occasions. It makes reference to several provisions in Title 9 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, which address the abuse, abandonment, and neglect of children. Section 9:6-8.21(1)(c), for example, defines an “abused or neglected child” in part as one whose “parent or guardian” has “create[d] or allow[ed] to be created a substantial or ongoing risk of physical injury” that is likely to lead to the child’s death, disfigurement, or debilitating injury. Section 9:6-3 makes such acts or omissions by a responsible adult a criminal offense.

Abuse or neglect of a child is a “crime of the fourth degree” according to § 9:6-3. This is the equivalent of a felony offense in other state’s criminal codes. New Jersey uses the term “indictable crime” or “crime of the [X] degree” to refer to these levels of offense. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, located in Title 2C, defines EWC as a crime of the second degree when it involves acts identified in provisions like § 9:6-8.21(1). These offenses are punishable by much longer terms of incarceration than motor vehicle offenses or misdemeanors, identified in New Jersey as “disorderly persons offenses.”
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New Jersey law defines driving while intoxicated (DWI) as a motor vehicle offense, instead of a criminal offense. In certain situations, however, a DWI case can lead to criminal charges. One way is when a person allegedly commits DWI while a minor is a passenger in the vehicle. In many cases, this is a separate offense classified as a “disorderly persons offense,” the equivalent of a misdemeanor under New Jersey law. If the circumstances of a particular case allegedly placed a child at particular risk, however, prosecutors could charge a defendant with a felony-level offense. While DWI with a minor is a more serious offense than DWI in most ways, it also differs from DWI in some unusual ways. A DWI with a minor conviction, for example, might be eligible for expungement, while a DWI conviction is not.

The main DWI statute, found in § 39:4-50 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, actually defines at least four distinct offenses: first-time DWI, second DWI, third or subsequent DWI, and DWI in a school zone. DWI with a minor is found in § 39:4-50.15. It defines a “minor” as a person who is no more than seventeen years old. A “parent or guardian” is anyone with “a legal duty for…care, custody or control” of a minor, even on a temporary basis. This includes a driver with a minor as their passenger.

DWI with a minor is a disorderly persons offense. A person must be convicted of DWI in order to be found guilty of DWI with a minor, but the statute defines them as two separate offenses. The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, found in Title 2C of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, does not define criminal offenses with the familiar terms “felony” or “misdemeanor.” Instead, it uses the terms “crime” and “disorderly persons offense,” respectively, to refer to each. While New Jersey law states that a disorderly persons offense is not a “crime,” this only means that it is not a “felony.”
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A person commits the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey when they operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug. The DWI statute establishes four levels of penalties. The first two levels apply to first offenses. The remaining levels apply to second offenses and third or subsequent offenses. The New Jersey Legislature amended the statute in 1999 to add enhanced penalties for DWI offenses that occur on or near school property, or in designated crosswalks. The general offense of DWI is codified in § 39:4-50(a) of the Revised Statutes, and the school-related provisions are in subsection (g). In 2004, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that subsection (g) is a separate offense from subsection (a). This has created some confusion about how to determine when a prior New Jersey DWI conviction should count toward a sentencing enhancement.

Subsection (a) sets two levels of penalties for a first DWI offense. If the defendant had a BAC of more than 0.08 percent, but less than 0.10 percent, the penalties include a fine of $250 to $400, jail time of 12 to 48 hours, and a three-month driver’s license suspension. Some penalties increase if the defendant’s BAC was 0.10 percent or higher, such as a fine of $300 to $500 and a license suspension of seven months to one year. The penalties increase for a second offense, and again for a third or subsequent offense, provided that the most recent previous offense occurred no more than 10 years earlier.

The New Jersey Legislature passed Senate Bill 854 in June 1999, and it was signed into law in August of that year. Legislators named the bill “Filomena’s Law,” after a school crossing guard who was killed by a drunk driver in 1997. The bill amended numerous provisions of New Jersey law, including sections of the Code of Criminal Justice addressing vehicular homicide and other offenses. It added subsection (g) to the DWI statute, which applies when a person commits DWI on school property, within 1,000 feet of school property, in a designated school crossing, or in an area the driver knows is being used as a school crossing.

New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute sets multiple levels of penalties, primarily based on a defendant’s number of convictions within the prior decade. Enhanced penalties apply for a second offense within a ten-year period, and again for a third or subsequent offense. A 1999 amendment to the DWI statute created a separate set of penalties, found in subsection (g) of the statute, for DWI on or near school property. Uncertainty has arisen with regard to whether a conviction under one subsection should count as a prior offense in a new case under the other subsection, and how to apply the sentencing enhancements found in each subsection. Decisions from the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Appellate Division have held that the order in which the two offenses occur—(g) followed by (a), or (a) followed by (g)—is important.

The penalties for a second DWI conviction under subsection (a) include a fine of $500 to $1,000, imprisonment of forty-eight hours to ninety days, and driver’s license suspension for two years. A second offense under subsection (g) has harsher penalties: a fine of $1,000 to $2,000, imprisonment of ninety-six hours to 180 days, and a four-year license suspension. The penalties for a third or subsequent offense within ten years are also greater under subsection (g) than subsection (a).

A 2004 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling involved a defendant convicted of DWI under subsection (g), with a prior conviction under subsection (a). The municipal court applied subsection (g)’s enhanced penalties for a second offense. The Appellate Division affirmed this sentence, finding that a second DWI offense in a school zone “can be viewed as an escalating violation.”
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Driving while intoxicated (DWI) can involve other substances besides alcohol. New Jersey’s DWI statute makes it an offense to drive while under the influence of a “narcotic” or “habit-producing drug.” It does not specify that the narcotic or other drug must be illegal or illicit. Certain prescription medications can significantly impair a person’s ability to perform various functions, including driving. Defending against this type of DWI charge often involves challenging the police’s determination of impairment. Even if a person legally possesses a prescription medication, and uses it exactly as instructed by their doctor, the state could still charge them with DWI. Last month, for example, New Jersey prosecutors charged a school bus driver with DWI after a minor accident in a parking lot, alleging that she was under the influence of prescription medications.

New Jersey law identifies a level of blood alcohol content (BAC) at which a person is presumed to be impaired. It does not identify specific levels of other substances. In order to prove that a defendant was under the influence of something other than alcohol, the state usually relies on eyewitness testimony about a defendant’s appearance and demeanor at the time of their arrest. Prosecutors may also offer expert testimony from officers known as “drug recognition experts,” who are purportedly trained in recognizing signs of impairment by various drugs.

Reported cases involving “prescription medication DWI” in New Jersey appear to be rare. Cases often involve combinations of substances. For example, the defendant in a 2015 New Jersey Appellate Division case, State v. Pouch-Mendola, was reportedly taking two prescription medications that acted as “central nervous system depressants.” According to the court, she admitted to “consuming alcohol to ‘enhance’ [the] effect” of the medications. The court affirmed her conviction.
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The New Jersey statute defining the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) allows the state to prove impairment by substances other than alcohol. At the same time, it makes it generally easier for the state to prove impairment by alcohol, partially due to the wider availability of technologies for measuring alcohol in a person’s system. The New Jersey Legislature has written the law to allow a presumption of impairment based on chemical testing for alcohol, but not other substances. A report from last year by NJ.com indicates that the rate of DWI dismissals throughout the state has increased over the past decade. It suggests that an increase in prosecutions for driving under the influence of drugs, or “drugged driving,” could be a factor. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find any single cause for a statistic like this, but it is worth noting that drugged driving is potentially more difficult for prosecutors to prove.

State law defines DWI in two ways. First, a person commits an offense if they drive “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.” This requires the state to prove that a defendant was impaired, or “under the influence,” through a variety of means, such as eyewitness testimony and testimony from officers trained to identify the effects of various drugs. The second type of DWI is often known as DWI per se. It only requires proof that a person drove while their blood alcohol content (BAC) was at or above 0.08 percent. State law requires anyone suspected of DWI to submit breath samples for chemical testing to determine BAC. Refusal to submit a breath sample is a separate motor vehicle offense with penalties that are almost as serious as the penalties for DWI.

Prosecutors routinely call the arresting officer or officers to testify at DWI trials. Where alcohol is allegedly involved, an officer may testify about their observations of a defendant. This may involve the odor of alcohol, or physical signs of intoxication like bloodshot or glassy eyes, slurred speech, and difficulty with balance. An officer who conducted field sobriety tests (FSTs) can offer testimony about a defendant’s performance. Even in the absence of BAC evidence, the state can offer evidence in an attempt to prove intoxication.
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The legal status of cannabis, including marijuana and related products, is undergoing major changes throughout the country. More than half of all U.S. states, including New Jersey, allow the possession and use of marijuana to some extent for medical purposes under a doctor’s supervision. A handful of states have enacted laws decriminalizing the possession of small amounts for recreational use. This may involve the substitution of civil penalties for criminal ones, or the removal of all legal penalties. A bill pending in the New Jersey Legislature, the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act (NJCREAMA) would remove all criminal penalties for the purchase and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. Several provisions of the bill directly address investigations and prosecutions under New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law.

The New Jersey DWI statute defines the offense, in part, as driving “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic,…or habit-producing drug.” For alcohol, the statute establishes a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent as the per se standard of impairment. State law also requires DWI suspects to submit a breath sample for BAC testing. New Jersey has no per se standard for marijuana impairment in DWI cases. Prosecutors must instead rely on circumstantial evidence and testimony from police officers trained as “drug recognition experts.” A bill introduced in February 2018, A2776, would establish a per se standard of two nanograms per milliliter, based on blood tests, but it is still awaiting a committee assignment.

Legislators first introduced NJCREAMA in the Senate in June 2018 as S2703. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee reported favorably on an amended version of the bill on November 26, 2018. A companion bill, A4497, was introduced in the Assembly and received a favorable report from the Assembly Appropriations Committee on the same day. This means that both committees recommend passage of the bill. In addition to legalizing small amounts of marijuana for medical use, the bill would create a new Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) “to regulate personal use and medical cannabis.” It also provides for the expungement of records in certain prior marijuana cases.
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The holiday season means many great things for people in New Jersey, such as family, friends, and celebration. Since the “celebration” part of the holidays can sometimes lead to excess, police tend to step up efforts to enforce New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws on roads during the holidays. This may include the use of roadside sobriety checkpoints. New Jersey police are allowed to stop drivers at temporary checkpoint locations to inquire about alcohol consumption and look for signs of intoxication. The ability of police to do this is strictly limited, however, by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. New Jersey drivers should know their rights during sobriety checkpoint stops.

The New Jersey DWI statute defines the offense primarily as operating a motor vehicle “while under the influence” of alcohol or drugs, or with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. The state may prove this by offering evidence of a defendant’s BAC obtained from a breath sample, which all drivers in New Jersey are required to provide under law, or through other evidence indicating that a defendant was impaired at the time they were operating a vehicle. Many DWI cases begin with a traffic stop based on a police officer’s suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. The Fourth Amendment requires that this be a “reasonable suspicion,” meaning that police officers cannot pull a driver over without some clear basis for suspecting DWI. To make an arrest, police must have “probable cause” to believe an offense has occurred.

Sobriety checkpoints, which allow police to stop some or all vehicles on a particular stretch of road, clearly do not involve “reasonable suspicion,” but the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed their constitutionality. In 1990, the court held in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz that preventing DWI was a “substantial government interest,” that sobriety checkpoints “reasonably…advance that interest,” and that “the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists” is minimal. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that a sobriety checkpoint was constitutional in 1985 in State v. Kirk, and in 1989 in State v. Mazurek. The New Jersey Supreme Court reached a similar ruling in 2002’s State v. Carty.
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Prosecutions for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey often begin with a traffic stop. A police officer might pull a driver over based on a specific suspicion of DWI, or they might pull them over for another reason and then notice signs of possible impairment by drugs or alcohol. In either case, police must have “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful activity before initiating a traffic stop. The “reasonable suspicion” requirement is an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. New Jersey prosecutors recently tried to justify a traffic stop that led to a DWI case under the “community caretaker” doctrine, another exception to the warrant requirement, in State v. Sutherland. The New Jersey Supreme Court had previously rejected prosecutors’ reasonable suspicion argument. On remand, the Appellate Division rejected the community caretaker argument as well. This can be a complex area of law, so it may be worthwhile to reach out to a New Jersey DWI lawyer if you have questions.

Under New Jersey law, it is a traffic offense to drive “while under the influence” of drugs or alcohol. The state can prove that a defendant was legally impaired through various means, including eyewitness testimony by the arresting officers, other officers, and “drug recognition experts.” Prosecutors can also introduce evidence of blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above the “legal limit” of 0.08 percent. Defending against a DWI charge often involves challenging the state’s evidence of impairment, but it may also be possible to challenge the justification for the traffic stop itself.

Brief detentions of individuals by police, based on reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity, are often known as “Terry stops,” after the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio. Five years later, the court decided Cady v. Dombrowski, which held that police do not violate the Fourth Amendment when they find evidence of criminal activity while engaging in certain “community caretaking functions.” This refers to police activities that have no relation to “the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.”
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Defending against a charge of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey requires careful evaluation of every part of the state’s case, which is why it is often wise to retain a dedicated New Jersey DWI lawyer if you are in such a situation. The state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on every element of the offense of DWI. The job of a defendant and their counsel is to challenge the state’s evidence and legal arguments. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from conducting searches and seizures without a warrant, but the courts have identified numerous exceptions. A police officer may be able to justify a traffic stop if they can demonstrate “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful activity by the driver. In early 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the state’s reasonable suspicion argument in State v. Sutherland. The court held that the officer’s suspicion was not “objectively reasonable.” It remanded the case to the Appellate Division to resolve the state’s alternative argument that the stop was justified by the “community caretaking” doctrine.

New Jersey’s DWI statute broadly prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle “while under the influence” of alcohol or drugs. It allows the state to prove impairment by alcohol in two ways: with evidence that a defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.08 percent or higher, or with other evidence indicating impairment. The statute identifies various penalties based on factors like a defendant’s BAC and their number of prior convictions. It does not make any mention of the manner in which police come to suspect that a driver is impaired.

A police officer may briefly detain a person, such as in a traffic stop, without a warrant if they have reasonable suspicion of criminal or other unlawful activity. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this in Terry v. Ohio in 1968. The court held that an officer’s suspicion must be based on “specific reasonable inferences…in light of his experience,” and not on an “inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch.’” In the context of a DWI case, an officer might testify that they witnessed a defendant driving erratically. A traffic stop that leads to a DWI charge does not have to begin with an officer’s suspicion of DWI. A police officer could stop a driver for another suspected traffic violation, such as running a red light, and then discover evidence of DWI. This becomes complicated when an officer is mistaken about traffic law.
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