Most features of law enforcement in the U.S. operate at the state and local levels. These include traffic laws, like those related to driving while intoxicated (DWI). The legal system in New Jersey, like all states, categorizes alleged offenses based on factors like the type of activity involved and the severity of the harm allegedly caused. Major offenses are classified as felonies, and less serious offenses are considered misdemeanors. Traffic offenses are generally not considered criminal offenses at all, although they can still result in fines and jail time. New Jersey treats DWI as a traffic offense in all cases, but other states, like our neighbor, New York, take a different view. A recent case involving a New Jersey resident driving in New York illustrates the difference. An arrest for DWI, combined with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above a certain level and a prior DWI conviction, resulted in felony criminal charges.
DWI and most related offenses, such as a refusal to submit to breath testing and driving with a suspended license, are considered traffic offenses under New Jersey law. Despite the lack of the “criminal” designation, the penalties for a conviction can still be quite serious. A third or subsequent conviction for DWI, for example, results in a minimum jail sentence of 180 days, with credit for up to 90 days in a rehabilitation program. The only DWI-related offense that is considered “criminal” under New Jersey law occurs when a person drives with a suspended license, and the license suspension is due to a prior DWI conviction. This is a “fourth degree crime” and carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days.
New York, much like New Jersey, codifies its DWI laws in the Vehicle & Traffic Law (VTL), rather than its Penal Law. The statute distinguishes among “driving while ability impaired” by alcohol, driving while intoxicated by alcohol, and “driving while ability impaired by drugs.” It identifies “driving while intoxicated per se” as driving with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, and it defines the offense of “aggravated driving while intoxicated” as either (1) driving with a BAC of 0.18 percent or higher or (2) driving while impaired with a child, age 15 or younger, in the car.
The New York DWI statute, unlike New Jersey, categorizes DWI as a criminal offense. The general rule is that a “traffic infraction” is not a criminal offense under New York law unless the law specifically identifies the offense as a misdemeanor or felony. Aggravated DWI is classified as a misdemeanor in most cases. It is a felony, however, if the individual has a prior conviction, within the past 10 years, for DWI, aggravated DWI, vehicular assault, or other offenses. A felony offense, by definition, carries a penalty of at least one year’s imprisonment.
The arrest mentioned above occurred in mid-November 2016 in Orangetown, New York, just across the state line from New Jersey. The individual was arrested after she was involved in a single-car accident. Her BAC was allegedly 0.18 percent, and she reportedly has a previous DWI conviction that is less than 10 years old. Prosecutors have therefore charged her with felony aggravated DWI.
New Jersey DWI attorney Evan Levow can help you understand your rights in your DWI case, guide you through the court process, and prepare a comprehensive defense for you. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced advocate, contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.
More Blog Posts:
DWI Arrest Could Have Significant Immigration Consequences, According to U.S. State Department, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, September 19, 2016
New Jersey Driver Found Sleeping in His Car Acquitted of DWI After Judge Finds Prosecutors Failed to Prove He Intended to Drive, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 24, 2016
DWI Convictions from Outside New Jersey May Count Toward Priors Leading to Criminal Charge for Driving with a Suspended License, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, May 10, 2016