Legal Defense Update: Not Every Drunken Driving Arrest in New Jersey Results in Similar Penalties Post-conviction

A DWI is a DWI is a DWI, right? Well, not exactly. Here in the Garden State, people generally understand that an arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol can lead to severe monetary penalties. But what many motorists do not realize — until they have actually gone through the process of being tried for a DWI offense — is that drunken driving arrests come in varying degrees of severity, vis-à-vis penalties.

As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, I and my staff of experienced DWI lawyers possess a deep understanding of the legal statutes that define this state’s anti-drunken driving law. Local and state police also know the law, too, and every day along our highways and byways, they make quite a concerted effort to secure arrests of individual drivers who, in their eyes, violate New Jersey’s strict DWI traffic laws.

For starters, every drunk driving defense lawyer in this state should know that driving while under the influence of beer, wine or hard liquor can result in severe penalties as defined in the New Jersey DWI statute, known in legal circles as N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. This set of criteria state the following in no uncertain terms:

1) No person shall operate a motor vehicle while impaired by any intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit producing drug;

2) Any individual with a BAC (blood-alcohol concentration) of 0.08 percent (measured by weight) is deemed to be “per se” intoxicated for the purpose of deciding whether or not a legal violation of the law has occurred; and

3) No individual shall allow or permit the operation of a motor vehicle by another individual who is impaired or otherwise intoxicating by liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit producing drug.

With all this said, it is important to remind people that not every DWI arrest and conviction results in the same penalties. In fact, when it comes to sentencing, a variety of outcomes is possible depending on the defendant’s prior DWI history; this includes other convictions for drunken driving; impaired driving due to prescription drug use (or other substances, such as marijuana or cocaine); and even breath test refusal.

An experienced criminal defense attorney or DWI defense lawyer can help a motorist explore the various issues involved in a drunken driving case, which will help the individual to better understand their particular situation and prepare them for the upcoming DWI hearing. Some of the key points pertaining to sentencing (and potential license suspension) here in New Jersey are discussed below.

Breathalyzer Readings
One major factor that can cause a DWI case to turn one way or another is the BAC measurement provided by a breathalyzer machine or, more specifically, and Alcotest device or other equipment designed to determine a driver’s level of intoxication. Assuming the police followed proper procedures and the court has admitted the breath test data as evidence, the following usually pertains:

As a driver convicted of a first-time DWI offense in New Jersey, if the BAC reading was established to be between 0.08 and 0.10 percent, that individual can face a 3-month license suspension. However, if a reading above 0.10 was registered, then a 7-month to one-year suspension is called for by law. If the defense can exclude or deplete the results of the breathalyzer, then there is opportunity for a minimized license suspension.

Impact of Prior Convictions
As is often the case, prior convictions can significantly affect sentencing for a DWI, versus a situation where a driver refused to submit to a breath test. In the case of first-time conviction for breath-test refusal (as opposed to an actual DWI), under New Jersey law a motorist must be sentenced as a “first offender.”

The above situation is in contrast to that of an individual who has had a prior conviction for DWI and is subsequently charged with refusal. In such instances, the second (refusal) offense will be considered, for sentencing purposes, as a second DWI conviction with correspondingly harsher penalties.

Of course, anyone facing similar circumstances should contact a DWI defense lawyer who is experienced in handling these kinds of cases. For my part, as a former municipal prosecutor, I am always happy to meet with potential clients for a free initial consultation in order to discuss their cases in more detail.