Articles Posted in Effect of Arrest or Conviction

A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can result in several kinds of penalties, including jail time, a fine, and suspension of one’s driver’s license. Another penalty, which is found in a separate part of state law, involves the payment of a surcharge for three years after a New Jersey DWI conviction. An agreement among multiple U.S. states regarding traffic offenses also gives New Jersey the authority to impose penalties for DWI convictions that occurred in certain other states. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in Koscinski v. N.J. Motor Vehicle Comm’n on a challenge to the imposition of a surcharge in New Jersey based on a DWI conviction in Illinois.

Surcharges for DWI convictions are imposed by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) in a process that is separate from DWI prosecutions in municipal court. A first or second conviction results in a total surcharge of $3,000, payable over three years. The statute identifies this as a surcharge of $1,000 per year, but it is often payable in monthly payments of $83.33. A third conviction, if it occurs within three years of a prior conviction, results in a $4,500 surcharge, also payable over three years. Surcharges are also imposed in the same amount for refusal convictions. If a single incident results in convictions for both DWI and refusal, however, the statute states that only one surcharge will be imposed.

The Koscinski case raised the question of whether the MVC may impose a surcharge for an out-of-state conviction. New Jersey is member of the Interstate Driver License Compact (IDLC), an agreement among U.S. states to share information about traffic offenses. The IDLC also allows states to impose administrative penalties for traffic violations that occur in another member state. New Jersey law requires the MVC to “apply the penalties of the home State or of the State in which the violation occurred” in cases involving DWI and other offenses. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are members of the IDLC. New Jersey joined in 1967, while Illinois, the other state involved in Koscinski, joined in 1970.
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A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can lead to driver’s license suspension, fines and surcharges, and jail time. It can also have legal consequences beyond those established by the state’s motor vehicle laws. It is important to understand all of the ways a DWI charge or conviction can impact your life. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled on an appeal from a decision by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) to place an individual on the state child abuse registry, partly because of an alleged DWI. The decision in DCPP v. H.V. addresses issues commonly found in DWI cases, such as blood alcohol content (BAC) and observations of outward signs of intoxication.

Under New Jersey law, DWI is a motor vehicle offense punishable by jail time, a fine, and license suspension. A first offense involving BAC of at least 0.08 percent, but less than 0.10 percent, has the least potential penalty, which may include a fine of $250 to $400 and up to thirty days in jail. A third or subsequent offense, regardless of BAC, carries the greatest possible penalty, including a $1,000 fine, a minimum term in county jail of 180 days, license suspension for ten years, and mandatory use of an ignition interlock device. Defendants may also be subject to surcharges payable to the state, based on factors like the number of prior offenses.

The H.V. case involves a case of suspected DWI that led to an investigation by the DCPP. State law defines “neglect of a child,” in part, as “failure to do…any act necessary for the child’s physical…well-being.” It requires “any person having reasonable cause to believe” that a child’s parent or guardian has committed abuse or neglect to make a report to the DCPP. Within twenty-four hours of receiving such a report, the DCPP must initiate an investigation. Within seventy-two hours, it must forward the report to the child abuse registry maintained at the division’s headquarters.
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New Jersey DWI (driving while intoxicated) and related offenses are not considered criminal offenses. Instead, they are classified as traffic offenses, meaning that the maximum penalties, while still potentially quite onerous, are generally not as severe as in many criminal cases. A case involving alleged DWI can include criminal charges when injury or death occurs, but a defendant may also be subject to criminal prosecution merely for driving while their license is suspended (DWLS) when they have prior DWI-related convictions. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently considered what prior convictions are necessary for the criminal DWLS statute to apply in State v. Dougherty.

New Jersey’s criminal DWLS statute imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in jail. The statute identifies two scenarios based on the reason for the license suspension and the defendant’s prior record.
1. An ordinary DWLS charge can become a criminal charge if the license suspension is because of a conviction for first-time DWI or refusal to submit to breath testing, and the defendant has a prior conviction for DWLS during the same period of license suspension. This provision appears to require two prior convictions: one for DWI or refusal, and one for DWLS.
2. The criminal statute may also be invoked if the reason for the license suspension is a second or subsequent DWI or refusal conviction. This provision does not require a prior conviction for DWLS, but does require multiple prior DWI or refusal convictions.

The defendant in Dougherty was charged with criminal DWLS under the second scenario identified by the statute. He was convicted of DWI in August 2015, resulting in a three-month license suspension. In November 2015, he was convicted of refusal and sentenced to a seven-month license suspension. A police officer pulled him over while driving in December 2015, during the suspension period resulting from the refusal conviction. A grand jury indicted him for criminal DWLS.
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In New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) and most related offenses are not considered criminal in nature. They are instead classified as traffic or motor vehicle offenses. Driving while license suspended (DWLS) is usually a motor vehicle offense, punishable by a fine, driver’s license suspension, and potential revocation of vehicle registration. In certain circumstances, however, DWLS is a criminal offense. Prosecutors may charge a defendant with both forms of DWLS for a single alleged incident. A defendant convicted of both offenses recently argued on appeal that the trial court should have merged the penalties. The New Jersey Appellate Division agreed earlier this year in State v. Koerner. While it affirmed the conviction, it remanded the case to the lower court for resentencing.

Under New Jersey’s motor vehicle laws, a first DWLS offense carries a fine of $500. If the offense occurs during a period of license suspension for a DWI or refusal conviction, the penalty also includes vehicle registration revocation. For a second offense, the penalty includes a $750 fine and up to five days in jail. The penalty for a third or subsequent offense is a $1,000 fine and up to ten days in jail. If a second, third, or subsequent offense occurs within five years of a prior DWLS conviction, the defendant is also subject to registration revocation. Municipal courts typically hear motor vehicle cases.

The state can charge a person with criminal DWLS in two situations: (1) when the individual has a prior traffic conviction for DWLS during a period of license suspension resulting from a DWI or refusal conviction; or (2) when the alleged offense occurs while the individual’s license is under suspension for a second of subsequent DWI or refusal conviction. In both cases, it is a crime of the fourth degree, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in county jail. New Jersey’s sentencing statute allows sentences of up to eighteen months for crimes in the fourth degree. The New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division is the venue for most criminal cases.
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A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey results in mandatory driver’s license suspension. The duration of the suspension varies based on the number of prior DWI convictions, including convictions from other states. New Jersey has adopted the Interstate Driver License Compact (IDLC), which provides for “reciprocal recognition” of driver’s licenses, as well as the applicability of other state’s laws when considering prior convictions for certain traffic offenses. In order for a DWI conviction in another state to count as a prior conviction in New Jersey, the other state’s statute must be substantially similar to New Jersey law. A defendant in a license suspension case recently appealed a finding by the state government that counted a conviction under New York law as a prior conviction. The New Jersey Appellate Division’s ruling in Markowiec v. N.J. Motor Vehicle Comm’n reviewed the standards for determining when an out-of-state conviction counts under New Jersey law.

A first DWI offense in New Jersey includes a three-month suspension. If a first-time DWI defendant has blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.10 percent, however, the statute requires suspension for seven months to one year. A second offense includes a two-year license suspension, regardless of BAC. For a third or subsequent offense, the period of license suspension is ten years.

The IDLC states that certain out-of-state convictions, including DWI, may be considered by New Jersey officials for the purpose of license suspension or revocation. The DWI statute includes a similar provision, but it also includes an exception. A defendant can have an out-of-state conviction excluded if they “can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence” that the out-of-state offense arose from “a violation of a proscribed blood alcohol concentration of less than 0.08%.” This exception was the basis for the defendant’s appeal in Markowiec.
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New Jersey law regarding driving while intoxicated (DWI) imposes progressively harsher penalties for multiple convictions. A defendant might not face heightened penalties, however, through “step-down” provisions in New Jersey statutes and caselaw. If enough time passes between convictions, a second offense might be treated as a first offense for sentencing purposes. A step-down might also apply in other situations, such as if a prior conviction involved a guilty plea without representation by an attorney. Convictions that have been modified through the post-conviction relief (PCR) process may also be subject to a step-down. Courts must weigh a wide range of factors in determining how to sentence a second, third, or subsequent conviction. The Appellate Division took on several of these factors in a recent decision, State v. Terpstra.

The New Jersey DWI statute imposes increasingly harsh sentences for second DWI offenses and third or subsequent offenses. The statute directs courts to treat a second conviction as a first conviction, for the purposes of sentencing, if the first offense occurred over a decade before the second. Likewise, if a third offense occurs more than 10 years after the second, the court shall sentence it as a second offense. The relevant date is when the offenses occurred, rather than the convictions.

Representation by counsel in prior DWI cases may also affect whether the step-down provisions apply. In 1990, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an important ruling, State v. Laurick. The court held that courts may not impose sentencing enhancements if a prior conviction involved a non-counseled guilty plea. In other words, a second DWI conviction must be treated as a first at sentencing if the defendant pleaded guilty in the first case without a lawyer. A third offense would be sentenced as a second.

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) can affect a person’s life in nearly countless ways. Many potential consequences are not contained in the DWI statute itself. A recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division, N.J. Div. of Child Protection and Permanency v. T.S., demonstrates how a DWI case, even when it doesn’t result in a conviction, can have far-reaching consequences—in this case, charges of child endangerment.

New Jersey defines DWI in simple terms. A person commits an offense when they drive while “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol, or when they drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. The statute focuses solely on the act of driving and the fact of “influence” by drugs or alcohol. A person’s ability to drive safely, even after a few drinks, is therefore not a factor under New Jersey law. While public safety is one of the central purposes of the DWI statute, the state is not required to prove that a defendant actually posed a direct danger to anyone.

Other areas of law are also concerned with the danger posed by certain activities. New Jersey law defines child abuse or neglect, in part, as “unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or substantial risk thereof.” In other words, behavior that poses a substantial risk of harm to a child could legally constitute child abuse or neglect, even if the child in question suffered no actual harm. This definition of child abuse or neglect applies to civil proceedings regarding child welfare, including the removal of a child from the home on a temporary or permanent basis. Unlike DWI proceedings, civil cases only require proof by a preponderance of evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Courts in New Jersey encourage both prosecutors and defendants to explore alternatives to taking a case to trial. Most prosecutions in New Jersey do not go to trial, ending instead in a plea agreement, diversion, or dismissal. Defendants charged with criminal offenses may qualify for pretrial intervention (PTI), which allows them to “avoid ordinary prosecution by receiving early rehabilitative services or supervision.” Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is not a criminal offense under New Jersey law, meaning that PTI is not available for defendants charged with DWI in municipal court. The related offense of driving while license suspended (DWLS), however, can lead to criminal charges in certain situations. Information about PTI may therefore still be useful during a DWI case. A recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division, State v. Torres, reviews the criteria for PTI.

New Jersey law establishes PTI as a means of focusing on the “least burdensome form of prosecution possible” for qualifying defendants. Eligibility is generally limited to defendants with no prior convictions in New Jersey, nor in any other federal or state court. The statute does not define additional eligibility requirements, other than a presumption against eligibility for defendants charged with public corruption or domestic violence. Prosecutors may recommend a defendant for PTI based on various factors, including the severity of the alleged offense, the defendant’s age, and circumstances that suggest that ordinary prosecution would not be effective at deterring future illegal activity or serving justice.

The PTI statute can be found in Title 2C of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, also known as the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice. The DWI statute, on the other hand, is found in Title 39, Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation. This title deals with motor vehicle offenses like speeding, reckless driving, and DWLS, in addition to DWI. Proceedings involving motor vehicle offenses are similar to criminal proceedings in most ways. Prosecutors are still required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, for example, but defendants charged with DWI are not entitled to a trial by jury. In certain situations, DWLS is covered by a criminal statute, such as when a person allegedly drives during a period of license suspension that resulted from a DWI conviction.

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The legal treatment of driving while intoxicated (DWI) varies from one state to another, with some states categorizing it as a criminal offense and others, including New Jersey, calling it a traffic or motor vehicle offense. Several recent media reports have questioned whether New Jersey’s DWI laws are “tough enough,” pointing to the risks allegedly posed by repeat offenders. The New Jersey Legislature has revised and amended the DWI statute many times, and several bills are currently pending that would increase some penalties and reduce others. A key question to consider when discussing the “toughness” of DWI laws is whether the purpose of these laws is to punish people who violate the law, prevent people from violating the law in the future, or some combination of the two. This particular dispute is at least as old as the legal system itself.

Every state defines DWI, in part, as driving with blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. The differences between treating DWI as a criminal or traffic offense include the procedures courts must follow at trial, and the possible punishments resulting from a conviction. A DWI conviction in New Jersey, by itself, results in license suspension and a fine, as well as the possibility of jail time. A first-time offender with BAC of at least 0.15 percent must also install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle, both during and after the period of suspension. Second, third, and subsequent offenses also carry greater possible penalties, up to a maximum fine of $1,000, license suspension of ten years, and 180 days in jail.

In states where DWI is considered a criminal offense, penalties may be greater than in New Jersey, in terms of fine amount and length of jail sentence. The specific code section dealing with DWI in New Jersey, however, is not the only one involved in DWI enforcement. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code includes provisions penalizing drivers for refusing to submit to breath testing and for driving with a suspended license, as well as for circumstances like DWI with a minor passenger in the vehicle.
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New Jersey law imposes a wide variety of penalties for the traffic offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Some of these penalties, like fines and jail time, are primarily punitive. Other penalties have the additional goal of public safety. A license suspension after a DWI certainly counts as punishment, but proponents of license suspensions often cite the public safety benefit of keeping DWI offenders off the roads. A similar justification accompanies the New Jersey law requiring the use of an ignition interlock device (IID), which requires the driver to submit a breath sample and prevents a vehicle from starting if the sample shows a blood alcohol content (BAC) above a certain amount. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a federal agency, recommends the expanded use of IIDs, based largely on its assessment of the benefit to public safety. A bill currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature would require the installation of an IID for all DWI convictions.

Under current New Jersey law, the penalty for a first-time DWI offense does not include mandatory IID installation if the defendant’s BAC was less than 0.15 percent. Municipal court judges still have discretionary authority to order IID use in such cases during the period of the driver’s license suspension, and for six to 12 months after the reinstatement of the license. For a first offense with a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher, IID installation is mandatory for a similar period of time. After a second or subsequent DWI offense, IID installation is mandatory during the suspension period and for one to three years afterwards.

A DWI defendant cannot drive any vehicle other than the one with the IID installed while they are subject to a court order requiring an IID. Failing to install an IID as ordered, or operating a vehicle equipped with an IID by having someone else blow into the device, can result in an additional one-year license suspension. Other IID-related offenses include blowing into someone else’s IID to allow them to start the vehicle, tampering with an IID, and knowingly lending or leasing a vehicle without an IID to someone subject to a court order requiring an IID. These are all disorderly person offenses, which can carry penalties of up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

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