FAQ: NJ Drunk Driving Arrests and the Consequences of a DWI Conviction — Part One

For anyone arrested on a drunk driving offense, the immediate issue is usually finding a good lawyer to help defend against the state’s prosecution of those charges. In short, your time has come and action should be taken to seek legal counsel regarding one’s DUI-DWI case. For the balance of the people out there who may be wondering about the pros and cons of a DWI arrest and possible conviction, it may be a good idea to consider the worst-case scenario and then go backward from there.

As New Jersey DWI attorneys, my law firm does defend many individuals who have been accused of impaired driving — either through the use of alcohol or the taking of legal narcotic medications (perhaps even the taking of illicit drugs) — but we in no way condone intoxicated vehicle operation or driving a car, truck or motorcycle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The best way to avoid a DWI or drug DUI is to avoid consuming any amount of alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Here in the Garden State few motorists have anything good to look forward to if a DWI-DUI conviction is the ultimate result. In addition to the often thousands of dollars in fines, fees and insurance premium increases, accused drunk drivers should also expect the installation of an ignition interlock device on their car once their driving privileges have been restored.

As New Jersey drunken driving defense lawyers, my colleagues and I get a lot of questions from prospective clients following an arrest. But in the interests of filling the blanks a little sooner, we have included the first of a multi-part FAQ on the potential consequences of a DWI-DUI arrest and conviction. Whether one is picked up for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol, impaired by prescription drugs, or operating under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), the danger of walking into a courtroom unprepared or under-represented is quite high without the help of a qualified DWI defense lawyer.

As we have said before in this forum, drunk driving arrests are so much a part of the automotive landscape here in New Jersey that many individuals may fail to grasp the seriousness of such an incident. Considering the many and varied ways in which drivers can end up being stopped for even the most seemingly innocuous traffic offense, every day quite a few otherwise law-abiding citizens end up being taken in to police headquarters for a blood-alcohol content (BAC) breath test and, often likely, being charged with driving under the influence. Here are a few questions and answers to begin with:

Q: If convicted, should I expect any points for my DWI?

A: Not from the state, but even so, points added to one’s license would probably be the least of a person’s troubles following a DWI or breath test refusal conviction. It is important to remember, first and foremost, that there can and will be serious consequences following a DWI conviction. Typically, there will be thousands of dollars in insurance premium surcharges over several years (even on a first-time DWI or refusal offense). Furthermore, those convicted of a DWI will find they have been assessed nine insurance points, which along with any DMV-related points could likely cause one’s auto insurance company to deny further coverage thanks to that DWI conviction.

Q: If convicted on a DWI charge, can I at least hope to get a temporary, restricted or work license?

A: Sadly, here in the Garden State there is no alternate licensing program once a driver has lost his or her driving privileges following a DWI-DUI conviction. While the majority of states across the country still do have such programs, here in New Jersey the answer is definitely no. Instead, once a defendant has been found guilty of a drunken driving or breath test refusal charge, he or she must turn over in his or her driver’s license to the court. For those out-of-state drivers convicted of a DWI-DUI, the New Jersey court system has no legal authority to order someone to turn in his or her out-of-state license; however, that person will no longer be able to legally drive here even though his out-of-state license remains valid elsewhere.

Q: Wouldn’t it be safe to simply talk with the prosecutor’s office and work out a plea arrangement for my DWI case?

A: For years this has been an unrealistic option in the Garden State. New Jersey’s Attorney General has already issued directives to every municipal court statewide banning prosecutors from engaging in any plea bargaining where DWI-DUI is involved. Because of this, the best course of action for those facing DWI or drug DUI charges is to contact a qualified drunk driving defense attorney to learn about your options going forward, and to do so before speaking to anyone in the prosecutor’s office.

Without going into great detail here, an experienced DWI lawyer can look at your case and decide what approaches to your defense would make the most sense. A good lawyer can help you explore various defenses and legal strategies, based on facts such as lack of probable cause for the initial traffic stop, or possible errors in police procedures when administering a blood-alcohol content (BAC) breath test. If enough weakness in the state’s case can be shown, your lawyer may be able to convince the prosecution that a change to the charges may be in order. Few laypeople could do the same, which is why hiring a skilled DWI-DUI attorney can be the key to a better outcome.