If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), you may be worried about the possible consequences and what you should do next. The following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about DWIs in New Jersey.
What does the State of New Jersey need to prove to convict me of a DWI?
In New Jersey, a person may be convicted of driving while intoxicated if they were driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 or above, or if they were driving or operating a motor vehicle while impaired.
If a person refuses to take a BAC test or if the test is deemed inadmissible in court, the prosecution can use other evidence to prove impairment. Other evidence can include a person's appearance and demeanor at the time of the arrest, like
- slurred speech,
- watery eyes,
- confusion, and
- difficulty following the officer's instructions.
The prosecution may also present evidence of impairment while driving, like
- weaving in and out of traffic,
- ignoring traffic signals,
- not using signals, and
What are the penalties for a DWI in New Jersey?
Penalties vary according to the circumstances, facts, and prior convictions.
If your BAC level was between 0.08 and 0.10 or you were visibly under the influence of alcohol, the penalties for a DWI are a fine from $250 to $400, jail time for up to 30 days, and suspension of your driver's license for a period of three months. Suspension of your license is mandatory, though you may be able to get an ignition interlock device that would allow you to drive while your license is suspended.
If your BAC level was above 0.10 or you were driving while visibly under the influence of drugs, the penalties for a DWI are a fine from $300 to $500, jail for up to 30 days, and a mandatory interlock device for drivers if their BAC level was 0.15 or higher.
If your BAC level was over 0.08 or you were visibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, possible penalties range from a fine of $500 to $1,000, jail time for at least two and up to 90 days, suspension of driving privileges for two years, and a mandatory interlock device installed on your primary vehicle for one to three years.
If your BAC level was over 0.08 or you were visibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, possible penalties range from a fine of $1,000, jail time for a mandatory period of 180 days, suspension of driving privileges for 10 years, and a mandatory ignition interlock device installed on your primary vehicle for one to three years.
What will happen to my driver's license if I am arrested for a DWI?
As stated above, you are facing suspension of your driving privileges if you have been arrested for a DWI. There are no administrative proceedings to suspend your driver's license prior to a conviction for a DWI in New Jersey unless you have been charged with a felony, in which case the state may begin proceedings to request a suspension of your driving privileges before obtaining a conviction in Superior Court.
To get your driving privileges reinstated, you may be required to attend mandatory driver education courses about the dangers of driving while intoxicated. You may also be required to pay a reinstatement fee.
What are possible defenses to a DWI charge?
The prosecution has the burden of proving your case beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to prove each and every element of the crime charged means that you must be found not guilty. The following are some common defenses to DWI cases.
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause
In order to legally pull you over, police must have reasonable suspicion that you are committing a traffic violation or other crime and must have probable cause to arrest you. Police cannot pull drivers over randomly for the purpose of conducting DWI investigations. If your rights were violated because police pulled you over for no reason, your attorney may be able to file a motion to suppress and get key evidence excluded which can lead to the dismissal of your case.
Incorrectly Administered BAC Test
Breathalyzer machines must be properly tested and calibrated by individuals licensed to do so. If a sample of your blood or urine was taken for further testing, it must be labeled, stored and tested according to proper protocol. If police fail to properly follow these procedures, evidence may be ruled by a court to be inadmissible, which can lead to a dismissal of your case or a not guilty verdict.
Incorrectly Administered Field Sobriety Tests
Police are trained to administer field sobriety tests to gather sufficient evidence to arrest a person who is believed to be driving while intoxicated. The standard three tests administered to a person believed to be under the influence of alcohol are the one-leg stand test, the walk-and-turn test, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test. Police sometimes make mistakes when they give the instructions for these tests. An attorney can ask about how the tests were administered during cross-examination of the investigating officer, and any procedural mistakes can cast doubt about their reliability.
If you were arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol but were given drugs or alcohol without your knowledge, you may be able to assert an affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication.
A common misconception is that you cannot be convicted for driving under the influence of medication you have been legally prescribed. You may be arrested for driving under the influence of medication you were legally prescribed if it is determined that your ability to drive was impaired by the effects of the medication, even if you possessed it legally and took it as directed.
Can I be arrested for a DWI if I wasn't driving?
Operating a motor vehicle or being in control of a vehicle is an element of the charge of driving while intoxicated. In some cases, police may infer from the facts and circumstances of a case that a person was driving even if the police did not actually see the person driving. A very common example occurs when police are dispatched to investigate a car accident.
Many people who realize that they are too drunk to drive decide to sleep in their vehicle to avoid driving while intoxicated. Unfortunately, many people are arrested for driving while intoxicated after being found asleep in their car if the individual appears to be too intoxicated to drive or has a BAC level of 0.08. Police can infer that the person was operating the vehicle prior to pulling over to sleep. Being in physical control of the vehicle by having the keys in the ignition and sleeping in the driver's seat are clues that suggest a person was driving while impaired.
Should I fight my case?
A DWI conviction can have major consequences for your future and can impact your career, your reputation in the community, and your finances. It is never a good idea to plead guilty to a DWI without first consulting an experienced defense attorney.
Being arrested for a DWI can be an overwhelming event. Many first-time offenders have never been to jail before. Even if you believe that the state has evidence to convict you, sometimes mistakes by law enforcement, like improperly administered tests, can lead to dismissals of cases. Considering the major impact that a DWI can have on your life going forward, it is a good idea to talk to a defense attorney about your case as soon as possible.