New Jersey Media Examine “Toughness” of State DWI Laws

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.

In certain situations, driving with a suspended license as a result of a DWI conviction becomes a crime of the fourth degree under New Jersey law, with a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days. A DWI can accompany criminal charges in cases where a defendant is accused of causing harm as a result of operating a vehicle. This includes the offenses of assault by auto, which is a crime of the third degree when combined with DWI; and death by auto, which is a crime of the second degree under such circumstances. The criminal nature of the act, under New Jersey law, is therefore based on the harm that allegedly results, rather than the act of driving itself.

If you are facing an alleged DWI charge in New Jersey, you should consult with an experienced and skilled DWI attorney. Evan Levow can help you understand your legal rights and defend you against the state’s charges. Please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

DWI Arrests Across State Lines from New Jersey Can Have Very Different Consequences, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, February 13, 2017

New Jersey Law Enforcement Agencies Plan DWI Checkpoints for the Holidays, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 21, 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

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