Understanding Surcharges in New Jersey DWI Cases

New Jersey law imposes a range of penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI) and related offenses, including license suspensions, fines, and the possibility of jail time. On top of that, the state Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) assesses surcharges in New Jersey DWI cases. These are monetary penalties that must be paid separately from any fines imposed by a municipal court. The amount of the surcharge can be substantial, particularly for someone with multiple convictions, so understanding and preparing for a surcharge obligation is an essential part of defending against DWI charges. New Jersey considers DWI to be a “petty” offense, contained in the state’s motor vehicle laws rather than its criminal statutes. Courts have held that surcharges do not enhance the penalties for DWI to the point that it should be considered a criminal offense.

The New Jersey DWI statute identifies an increasing range of penalties. A first offense involving a blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent, but less than 0.10 percent, carries the lowest maximum penalty. A third or subsequent offense carries the greatest potential penalty, including up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and a license suspension of 10 years. The possible penalties for refusal to submit to breath testing also increase based on prior convictions, and they include both fines and a license suspension. A conviction for either offense includes a $100 surcharge payable to a Drunk Driving Enforcement Fund managed by the state, but this is not the only surcharge payable in DWI and refusal cases.

The New Jersey Automobile Insurance Reform Act of 1982 created a surcharge system under the MVC. It applies to DWI and refusal offenses occurring in New Jersey on or after February 10, 1983, and to comparable out-of-state offenses occurring on or after January 26, 1984. The amount of the surcharge has not changed since that time. The surcharge for a first or second DWI or refusal conviction is $3,000, payable in three annual installments of $1,000. For a third or subsequent conviction, the surcharge is $4,500, payable in three annual $1,500 payments. If a driver is convicted of both DWI and refusal based on a single arrest, they must only pay one surcharge. Private insurance companies may also assess their own surcharges after DWI or refusal convictions.

The classification of DWI as a “petty” offense in New Jersey means that defendants do not have the full range of constitutional rights that they would in a criminal prosecution. The U.S. Supreme Court held, for example, that defendants charged with “petty” offenses might not have the right to a trial by jury in 1989’s Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas. The court noted that the penalties imposed for a particular offense may be “so severe that they clearly reflect a legislative determination that the offense in question is a ‘serious’ one.” A New Jersey DWI defendant claimed that surcharges, when added to the penalties imposed by the DWI statute itself, rose to this level of severity. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed, however, in State v. Hamm in 1990.

If you have been charged with alleged DWI in a New Jersey municipal court and want guidance on surcharges, DWI attorney Evan Levow can guide you through the court process and advocate for your rights. You can contact us today at (877) 593-1717 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and knowledgeable team.

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Dashcam Videos from New Jersey Police Vehicles Are Public Record, According to Appellate Division Ruling, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 20, 2016

New Jersey Law Enforcement Patrol Vehicles Required to Have Video Cameras Under New Law, Funds to Come from New DWI Surcharges, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 1, 2014