DWI Defense News: Even Multiple Drunk Driving Convictions in New Jersey Don't Enter Felony Territory

April 18, 2013

Living, working and driving in the Garden State means that any motorist can become the focus of attention from a state patrol officer or a municipal policeman. The odds are, at some point in one's driving career, any number of people from counties like Ocean, Middlesex, Monmouth, Bergan and Passaic will end up being stopped by a mobile police patrol for a driving infraction. Moving violations are one of the primary ways in which some New Jersey motorists end up being charged with DWI.

Whether one is arrested on the grounds of driving while intoxicated by beer, wine or hard liquor, or if the charges involve impairment through the use of either doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals or an illegal substance such as marijuana, consulting a qualified drunk driving defense attorney should be the first thought. This is so true these days because of the heavy fines and statutory assessments imposed on a driver convicted of DWI or drug DUI.

As New Jersey DWI trial lawyers, I and my colleagues have decades' worth of experience in representing those individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the law following a drunken driving arrest. Many times, a New Jersey motorist has been driving his or her vehicle out-of-state when they are stopped for a minor traffic offense, but if they have had a drink or two, the police may take them into custody and charge them with DWI. For these New Jersey residents who have, penalties drunk driving can sometimes be more severe than in our own state, depending of course on the circumstances surrounding the arrest and the driver's previous record.

Take our neighbors in the Empire State. Unlike here in Jersey, New York motorists can be charged with felony DUI if they have even one prior DWI-DUI conviction within the past 10 years. But up in Pennsylvania, as with New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island and a few other states plus Washington, D.C., a DWI-DUI charge doesn't have "criminal" consequences when it comes to subsequent drunken driving offenses.

For example, a 51-year-old Pennsylvania man who was arrested in his home state for drunken driving for the ninth time entered a plea of guilty and ended up receiving a 15- to 30-month prison sentence, while another man who was on his sixth DWI offense pleaded guilty and received a one- to three-year sentence.

While no one will argue that being sent to a state prison for months or years is anywhere close to being given a pass by the court, many anti-DWI advocates would say that these defendants are getting a pretty good deal, relatively speaking. As we know, there are states in which convicted multiple-DUI offenders face much harsher treatment under the laws.

Up in Pennsylvania, like here, it makes no difference how many times a person is convicted of DWI driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the worst sentence that the court can order is a maximum of five years, but legal experts in the Keystone State say that getting the maximum can be quite rare. All of this is due to the lack of felony-level charges in the drunk driving statutes. Without reaching the level of a felony, courts cannot sentence convicted DWI offenders to any harsher punishment.

Because drunken driving is only a traffic offense here in the Garden State, and not a criminal one, any person convicted of a DWI offense can legitimately say they have not been convicted of a crime in New Jersey. On the other hand, driving while intoxicated is the most serious offense under our traffic laws and as such the law has granted the offense what is called "quasi-criminal" status. What this means is that a person accused of drunk driving will receive most of the constitutional protections that usually cover those accused of criminal offenses, aside from the right to a trial by jury.

For those who have been convicted on a third or subsequent DWI charge, jail time is always attached, however a motorist can be sentenced to serve time following a conviction for a second -- or even a first -- offense. In any of these instances, however, the defendant still does not have the right to jury trial for a DWI charge. The reason for this is simple: the United States Supreme Court has ruled that no right to a jury trial exists where the maximum jail time does not exceed six months. For reference, the law calls for any person convicted of a third or subsequent DWI offense in New Jersey to serve 180 days in a county jail.


Pennsylvania among few states where DUIs never rise to felony charges, PhillyBurbs.com, December 9, 2013