Monmouth County DWI Update: All Drunk Driving Arrests are Serious; Some More Serious than Others

By now, most people understand that drinking and driving is about as low as one can go on the scale of social acceptability. Yet it happens every day; another otherwise law-abiding citizen is stopped by police for a simple traffic infraction and subsequently arrested for operating her vehicle while intoxicated. These motorists are not always the social misfits that many officials make this group out to be; many are friends, neighbors and business acquaintances.

This is not to say that some drivers aren’t habitual DWI offenders, it’s just that many people charged with DWI or drug DUI are first-time offenders who may not have otherwise expected to be arrested and then lumped into the same category as the typical impaired motorist. As New Jersey drunken driving defense attorneys, I and my team of skilled legal professionals have decades of combined experience helping those individuals accused of driving under the influence of beer, wine or hard liquor.

As professional trial lawyers in the field of DWI defense, we are shocked at the number of people who apparently accept the inevitability of a DWI conviction without once calling a qualified drunk driving attorney for even some basic advice. This is a sad commentary, since we know that there are many facets to drunk driving law, most of which the average person has no inkling.

Take for instance, the simple question of whether the state can prove a person was actually the “operator” of his or her vehicle. While it may seem a crazy stretch of the imagination, a person can be charged with “driving” while intoxicated if they are only sleeping in their vehicle in a parking lot or driveway. Most people are not aware that one can be hit with an “Operating while Intoxicated” charge in such cases, which to many would seem absurd given the circumstances.

In our experience, a defense against a charge of operating under the influence calls for a couple key questions to be answered: 1) Can the prosecuting attorney actually prove you were the operator of the vehicle at that moment in time? And, 2) Can the prosecution prove you were intoxicated?

In the first instance, if the driver was outside of the vehicle when the arresting officer first noticed him, or if the person was in the driver’s seat yet did not have actual control of the ignition key, there may indeed be a way to successfully challenge the state’s claim. As for the second question, we know that blood and breath tests aren’t always reliable. Similarly, roadside sobriety tests and other methods of evaluating level of impairment via behavior can usually be challenged.

The bottom line is that few laypeople know the law well enough to mount a viable defense. On the other hand, professional trial attorneys familiar with law have both training and experience within the legal system.

Now, regarding our topic of which DWI offenses are worse than others, it has to be said that being charged with drunken driving while in a school zone is one of the more serious situations, outside of causing a fatal or bodily injury accident while allegedly impaired by alcohol or drugs. This is because the law provides for what we term “enhanced penalties” when a driver violates one of New Jersey’s drinking and driving statute within 1,000 feet of a school zone. Keep in mind that 1,000 feet is just under two-tenths of a mile or roughly the equivalent length of three football fields, end zone-to-end zone.

As for penalties associated with a school zone-related DWI offense, a first-time DWI can result in a fine from $606 to as much as $1006, with possible jail time of upward of 60 days. A second-time offense adds another $1,000 to the first-time penalty, with a jail term of 96 hours to as much as six months. Third-time convicted offenders are looking at a fine of $2006 and 180 days in jail.

And discounting the monetary and incarceration penalties, license suspensions for these offense can run from one to two years for a first offense, to not less than four years on a second-time conviction. Those convicted for a third time may as well sell their vehicle; the suspension of driving privileges for a third-time conviction in a school zone is 20 years. As we said, some drunken driving offenses are more serious than others, so be sure to contact a skilled attorney before ever setting foot in a courtroom.