New Jersey has its’ share of myths and urban legends. They range from the Jersey Devil to Jimmy Hoffa’s final resting place. For the most part, they are entertaining and harmless.
Not surprisingly, New Jersey has its’ share of widely held myths surrounding DWI law. They are far from harmless good fun. Year after year, these misunderstandings cause a lot of good people to make really bad decisions when charged with drunk driving. That’s why I’ve put together this paper which identifies the 12 most common New Jersey DWI myths and “busts” them by providing accurate, reliable information.
Myth #1: “DWI in NJ isn’t that big a deal.”
Reality: It is a very big deal. A DWI conviction in New Jersey carries with it significant, potentially life-altering costs. There are both the obvious costs and not so obvious costs.
Let’s start with the obvious costs:
For a first offense, with a BAC of between .08 and less than .10, the fines range from $250 to $400; between12 and 48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center; up to 30 days in jail; a three month loss of license; and a N.J. DMV surcharge of $1,000 for three years. Additional fines and expenses will be assessed, including a $200.00 DWI Enforcement Fund, $50.00 Violent Crime Compensation Board Fund, $75.00 Safe Neighborhood Fund, $200.00 NJ MVC Restoration Charge(s), $150.00 Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) Fee(s) (Additional fees for out-patient counseling as referred by the IDRC), and $33.00 in Court Costs.
For a first offense, with a BAC of .10 or higher, the fines range from $300.00 to $500.00; between 12 and 48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center; up to 30 days in jail; a loss of license of not less than seven months and up to one year, and the installation of an ignition interlock device (at your expense) for a period of seven months to one year following license restoration (this is mandatory if your BAC reading was .15 or higher, but discretionary if your BAC was less). There will be the N.J. DMV surcharge of $1,000 for three years and all of the “additional fines and expenses” detailed above.
For a second offense, with a BAC of .08 or higher, the fines ranges from $500.00 to $1,000; community service of 30 days; jail for not less than 2 days nor more than 90 days; a two year loss of driving privileges; a N.J. DMV surcharge of $1,000 for three years; imposition of an interlock device (at your expense) for one to three years following license restoration; two year revocation of registration, and all of the other “additional fines and expenses” detailed above.
For a third offense, with a BAC of .08 or higher, there is a fine of $1,000; jail for 180 days; a ten year loss of driving privileges; a N.J. DMV surcharge of $1,000 per year for three years ($1,500 per year for three years if the third DWI took place within three years of the previous one); imposition of an interlock device for one to three years following license restoration, and revocation of registration for 10 years, and all of the other “additional fines and expenses” detailed above.
This is just a summary. A chart detailing these penalties can be found at here.
Let’s talk about the not so obvious costs of a DWI conviction:
Your auto insurance company will drop you like a hot potato. Your auto insurance rates will likely skyrocket for years to come. You will need to figure out how to get to work, school, medical care, etc. without being able to drive there yourself. For some people, this will involve incurring substantial expenses in hiring drivers or taking cabs, not to mention the inconvenience of doing so. For some, the loss of license means the loss of their job, or a substantially impaired ability to earn a living. For many people, however, the greatest cost is the embarrassment caused by a DWI conviction and the substantial strain it can place on relationships with friends and loved ones.
Myth #2: “Even if they suspend my license, I’ll be allowed to drive to work, school or medical appointments.”
Reality: No, you won’t. Unlike other States, New Jersey does not issue “restricted licenses”, “work licenses” or “conditional licenses” that would enable someone convicted of DWI to drive during their period of suspension. When it comes to DWI in New Jersey, suspended means suspended.
Myth #3: “I’ll demand a jury trial. No jury will convict me!”
Reality: You can demand away, but the truth is that there are no jury trials for DWI cases in New Jersey. DWI is considered a violation of the motor vehicle code not the criminal code. If your DWI case proceeds to trial, it will be before the Municipal Court judge in the town where your DWI charge was issued. You are not.
Myth #4: “I can just plea bargain it down to a speeding ticket or something.”
Reality: No you can’t. New Jersey’s Supreme Court has instructed the Municipal Courts that there can be no plea bargaining in DWI cases. While most other cases in Municipal Court can be plea bargained, Prosecutors are not allowed to do so with DWI cases.
Myth #5: “I’ve got an out of State license. A New Jersey DWI won’t affect it.”
Reality: The truth is that a New Jersey Court cannot suspend your ability to drive in your home State or any other State. That’s because New Jersey Courts only have jurisdiction over your ability to drive in New Jersey. New Jersey will, however, report your New Jersey DWI conviction with the State that issued your driving license. It is very likely that State will then suspend the license it issued to you.
Myth #6: “The ticket said DUI. That’s different from DWI, right?”
Reality: There is no real difference between them. DWI stands for “Driving While Intoxicated”. DUI stands for “Driving under the Influence”. In practice, these terms are used interchangeably. While there may be a distinction between these terms in other States, this is not the case in New Jersey.
Myth #7: “I can’t be charged with DWI. I didn’t drink any alcohol.”
Reality: Not true. Under New Jersey’s DWI laws, it doesn’t matter whether your impairment while driving was due to alcohol, prescribed medication, over the counter medication or recreational drugs (although with the last of these other charges will probably be involved). What matters is whether that substance impaired your ability to safely operate your vehicle. More and more of these types of non-alcohol DWI cases are being prosecuted.
Unlike DWI cases involving alcohol, there is no official standard for how much of a particular drug you need to have in your system to be prosecuted for DWI. The focus of the prosecution is not typically on how much or how little of the substance you had consumed. Instead, the focus will be on how it impacted your driving and your physical condition while driving.
Myth #8: “They have to dismiss the case because they didn’t read me my Miranda Rights!”
Reality: The police are obligated to advise you of your “Miranda Rights” (you have the right to remain silent, etc.) after you have been arrested or taken into custody. The police are not obligated to advise you of your “Miranda Rights” prior to that point.
The consequence of a DWI defendant not having been advised of their “Miranda Rights” when they should have been is not the automatic dismissal of the case against them. It is a basis to have any statements made by the Defendant without a knowing and intelligent waiver of the right to remain silent excluded from evidence.
Myth #9: “I don’t have to take the Breathalyzer test!”
Reality: Yes, you do. Many honest, law abiding New Jersey drivers sincerely believe they have a right not to provide the police during a DWI case with a breath sample. That is untrue.
You do not have a legal right to refuse to provide a breath sample (and under some circumstances a urine or blood sample) to a police officer in New Jersey in a DWI case. The legal theory behind this is that by virtue of accepting a New Jersey driving license, you have impliedly consented to providing that sample when the officer requests it.
If you do not agree to take the Breathalyzer test (actually the device used most of the time in New Jersey is called the Alcotest) it is exceedingly likely that you will be charged with an offense called “Refusal”, as well as being charged with DWI. The penalties for Refusal are for the most part, the same as the penalties for DWI. Instead of one set of DWI penalties you will be, in effect, looking at two sets of fines, license suspensions, surcharges, etc.
Myth #10: “I don’t have to take the Breathalyzer until I’ve spoken to my attorney!”
Reality: Not true. Refusing to provide that sample because you haven’t spoken to your attorney will very likely result in your being charged with Refusal.
In New Jersey there is no right to speak to an attorney until after you have submitted to a blood or breath testing at the police station, or if you have refused to do so.
Myth #11: “I can always get my DWI charge expunged from my record.”
Reality: New Jersey DWI charges cannot be expunged. This is because New Jersey considers DWI to be a motor vehicle offense, not a criminal offense. The expungement statute specifically excludes the expunging of motor vehicle violations. Other States, particularly those that view DWI charges as criminal violation, might allow for their expungement.
Myth #12: “I’m screwed no matter what. There’s no reason to get a lawyer to defend me on my DWI charge.”
Reality: DWI law in New Jersey is very tough, and the consequences are very severe. That’s why you really should consider hiring an experienced local DWI lawyer. I have yet to handle a DWI case where my client was less than substantially benefited by my involvement.
I am often able to have the DWI case dismissed either on procedural or substantive grounds. When I can’t, I am almost always able to have fines, penalties and suspensions reduced to the minimums set by law and the other non-DWI charges dismissed. This saves my clients thousands of dollars in fines, license points and often, the further suspension of their driver’s license.
Finally, I offer my client’s the peace of mind that comes from being fully informed about their case. My clients understand both the strengths and weaknesses of their case, both from a factual and legal viewpoint. This approach removes the uncertainty, second-guessing and fear that those who don’t use the services of an experienced DWI lawyer often experience.
Experienced DWI Attorney in NJ
My name is David C. Barry, Esq. I am an experienced DWI lawyer serving central New Jersey. I can help you separate legal myths from the realities and put together a sensible and effective strategy for your DWI matter. Please call me at (732) 238-8686 if you would like to arrange a free, no obligation consultation on your DWI case.