New Jersey DWI Defense Update: Thoughts on Out-of-State Drunken Driving Arrests

As a former municipal prosecuting attorney and now drunk driving defense lawyer for motorists accused of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, prescription meds or illegal drugs, I have seen my fair share of court cases involving all manner of charges, witnesses, evidence and other relevant details. Although times have changed, to be sure, the way in which these DWI and drug DUI arrests remain fairly consistent. They usually occur following a driving error on the part of the accused drunken driver.

What has changed is the way in which information is shared between police departments, their municipalities, the states in which they reside. Decades ago, for instance, before the information superhighway, traffic offenders in one state were not always known to the police in surrounding or more distant states. But with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, databases filled with conviction and arrest data can be readily available to law enforcement agencies here in New Jersey and elsewhere.

How might affect a driver who has been arrested or charged with a moving violation in another state? Take for instance a motorist who was perhaps arrested for DWI in an adjoining state. It is true that a conviction for drunken driving, drug DUI or even breath test refusal outside of New Jersey can indeed have the same effect on a person later on as being convicted here in a Garden State courtroom.

When it comes to out-of-state DWI convictions, there are two specific instances where the non-resident conviction can reach out and touch an unsuspecting motorist. First is what we refer to as an “Administrative Suspension” imposed in New Jersey. This situation often takes place after a New Jersey driver has been convicted of a drunk driving-related offense in another state. In many cases, the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles will attempt to “domesticate” that out-of-state suspension, though the driver may hope to avoid the license suspension altogether.

With administrative suspensions that come from an out-of-state DWI conviction, the state of New Jersey will quite often impose on the driver the period of license suspension equal to what would have been called for if the same conviction occurred here. To put it another way, New Jersey’s DMV looks at the nature of the conviction in the other state in terms of the number that the offense represents (such as first-time, second or third offense) and then it imposes the corresponding suspension period which would normally be provided for under New Jersey law.

As is usually the case, from a monetary standpoint offenders convicted out-of-state cannot usually hide here either; along with the suspension will usually come whatever applicable New Jersey DWI surcharge there is for that particular offense. As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, we know how frustrating such a situation can be, which is why we recommend that anyone is this kind of predicament contact a qualified legal professional to discuss his or her options. The call could very well be beneficial and might result in not only simplifying the situation but also minimizing any penalties imposed.

The second instance applies to cases where an out-of-state DWI-DUI conviction has a bearing on in-state sentencing; this is where things get a little bit more complicated. For purposes of DWI sentencing here in New Jersey, that out-of-state conviction(s) can only be used if it was based on a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) which exceeded New Jersey’s legal limit at the time of the related conviction. This typically means that for a DWI conviction that happened before New Jersey lower its BAC limit to 0.08 percent (back in 2004), the conviction would only be a factor in sentencing here if it was based on a BAC of 0.10 percent or more. For example, an out-of-state conviction from before 2004, which was based on a BAC between 0.08 and 0.10 percent could not be used here for enhancement purposes.

We would like to remind our readers that these situation concerning out-of-state convictions does lend itself to potential defenses against an administrative suspension or when determining sentencing. As experienced drunk driving defense lawyers, our insight into the law and experience handling similar cases can be of great value to our clients.