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What Happens After Being Arrested for a DUI – FAQ/Guide

Driving while intoxicated is one of the most commonly-charged offenses in New Jersey. According to the Department of Justice, more than 24,000 people were arrested for drunk driving in New Jersey in 2013 alone – a figure that averages out to more than 65 DUI arrests every single day of the year.

Intoxicated driving may be a common charge, but that doesn’t make the legal process any less stressful or intimidating for the defendant and their loved ones. In an effort to help New Jersey residents understand what can happen after a person is arrested for drunk driving, our criminal defense lawyers have assembled this comprehensive legal guide to DUI/DWI in New Jersey. It covers:

  • The grounds for being charged with intoxicated driving.
  • Whether you will receive a criminal record for a DWI conviction.
  • Fines, jail time, and other penalties, including how those penalties change if the person had a high BAC or multiple DWI offenses.
  • What happens if you’re also charged with reckless driving.
  • Whether you are legally obligated to stop at a sobriety checkpoint, and what happens if you refuse a breathalyzer test.
  • How getting a DUI could affect your employment and insurance.
  • What happens when a drunk driving accident kills or injures another person.
  • Why you need an attorney to represent you if you’ve been arrested for DUI in New Jersey.

If you or your loved one is facing DWI charges, or if you have any questions about anything you read in this guide, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation. Our accomplished and aggressive legal team has more than 45 years of combined experience representing defendants throughout New Jersey, including Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township, Pleasantville, Hammonton, Cape May, Ocean City, Dennis Township, Wildwood, and more. Se habla español.

What is a DUI Conviction?

The first thing to understand about a drunk driving conviction is the terminology you’ll hear being used. Most states refer to drunk driving as DUI, which stands for Driving Under the Influence. New Jersey calls the offense DWI, which stands for Driving While Intoxicated. While the wording is slightly different, the basic idea is the same.

New Jersey’s DWI statute, or the law which governs definitions and penalties for DWI, can be found at N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50. This statute states that a person can be charged with DWI for driving any type of motor vehicle – including boats and motorcycles – if his or her BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) is 0.08% or greater. However, the BAC threshold is lower for certain types of drivers: 0.04% for commercial drivers, such as truck drivers, and just 0.01% for any driver under the legal drinking age of 21. If the driver’s BAC exceeds 0.10%, he or she can receive enhanced penalties.

Because bicycles are not technically motor vehicles, they are not subject to the provisions of N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50. However, you can still be fined for other offenses for riding your bike while intoxicated, such as disorderly conduct.

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Will I Get a Criminal Record for Drinking and Driving?

Drunk driving is not technically a criminal offense in New Jersey. Instead, it is a serious traffic violation. Because DWI is not a criminal offense, a DUI conviction will not result in the creation of a criminal record, nor will information about the DWI be added to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

However, that does not mean there will be no documentation of the incident. The DWI will be documented on your New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) driving record, which is public. Unfortunately, this can pose problems when it comes to employment and insurance, as we will discuss shortly.
While many conviction and arrest records have the potential to be sealed through a process known as expungement, New Jersey’s laws exclude DWI arrests and convictions from expungement eligibility because they are not criminal offenses.

What Are the Penalties for DWI in NJ?

General penalties for drunk driving in New Jersey include jail time, suspension of your driver’s license, assorted fines and fees, community service, going to an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC), and/or installing in your vehicle an ignition interlock device (IID), which acts like a breathalyzer that will prevent your car from starting if alcohol is detected. IIDs are sometimes called BAIIDs (breath alcohol ignition interlock devices).

The specific penalties you will receive if you are convicted depend on factors like whether you had a high BAC, whether it was your first offense, and whether you were under 21 years old at the time.

The penalties for a first-offense DWI with a BAC of at least 0.08%, but less than 0.10%, include the following:

  • Sentence – Up to 30 days
  • License Suspension – 3 months
  • Community Service/IID/IDRC – 12 to 48 hours IDRC
  • Fines and Fees
    • General Fine – $250 to $400
    • IDRC Fee – $230
    • Drunk Driving Fund – $100
    • Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF) – $100
    • Surcharge – $1,000/year for 3 years ($3,000 total)
    • Neighborhood Services Fund – $75

If the driver’s BAC was 0.10% or greater, the penalties for a first offense are the same, with the following exceptions:

  • The license suspension increases to 7 months to 1 year.
  • The general fine increases to $300 to $500.

If the driver’s BAC was 0.15% or greater, they will have to have an IID installed in their car for the duration of their license suspension, plus an additional 6 months to 1 year after their license has been restored.

The penalties for a second offense within 10 years are:

  • Sentence – 48 hours to 90 days
  • License Suspension – 2 years
  • Community Service/IID/IDRC – 30 days of community service, 12 to 48 hours IDRC, and IID for duration of license suspension (2 years) plus an additional 1 to 3 years after restoration of license
  • Fines and Fees
    • General Fine – $500 to $1,000
    • IDRC Fee – $280
    • Drunk Driving Fund – $100
    • Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF) – $100
    • Surcharge – $1,000/year for 3 years ($3,000 total)
    • Neighborhood Services Fund – $75

The penalties for a third offense within 10 years are the same as the penalties for a second offense, with the following exceptions:

  • The sentence increases to 180 days (about 6 months).
  • The license suspension increases to 10 years.
  • Community service increases to 90 days.
  • The general fine increases to $1,000.
  • The surcharge increases to $1,500 per year for 3 years, for a total of $4,500.

If your son or daughter was under the age of 21 at the time of their offense, he or she may face the following penalties:

  • License Suspension – 30 to 90 days
  • Community Service/IID/IDRC – 15 to 30 days of community service, IDRC of a duration to be determined
  • “Possible combination of the minimum sentences above and select DUI mandatory fines and penalties, depending on the situation.”

All of the penalties described in this section are mandatory.

What if I’m Charged with DWI and Reckless Driving?

It’s not uncommon for DWI charges to overlap with reckless driving. But “reckless driving” isn’t just a descriptive term – it’s a specific type of traffic violation prohibited by N.J.S.A. § 39:4-96, under which a person may be charged for “driv[ing] a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.” Along with driving drunk, other common examples of reckless driving behaviors include weaving between congested traffic lanes, blocking other vehicles, and ignoring road signs and traffic signs/lights.

Penalties for a first reckless driving offense in New Jersey include a fine ranging from $50 to $200, and/or up to 60 days in jail. For second and subsequent offenses, these penalties increase to a fine ranging from $100 to $500, and/or up to 90 days in jail. Depending on the circumstances of the offense, the judge may decide to temporarily suspend your license. License suspension falls to the discretion of the judge in reckless driving cases.

Do I Have to Stop at a DUI Checkpoint?

About a dozen states hold the position that sobriety checkpoints, which are also called DUI checkpoints or roadblocks, are unconstitutional. However, New Jersey is not among them. In New Jersey, checkpoints are upheld under both the state Constitution and the federal Constitution, and are generally set up a few times per month. The Constitutionality of checkpoints was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Michigan v. Sitz (1990).

As the Office of the Attorney General points out, sobriety checkpoints are not considered illegal search and seizure if they are conducted properly. New Jersey DWI checkpoints must meet the following criteria:

  • They must be authorized by law enforcement.
  • They must be set up at specific times and places, which are justified by data.
  • Warnings must be posted near the area where the roadblock is set up.

Under certain circumstances, it may be possible to challenge the Constitutionality of a roadblock. When determining whether a checkpoint met appropriate legal criteria, judges consider factors such as:

  • How much advance notice members of the public received.
  • The average length of time each person was stopped at the roadblock.
  • Whether other means of law enforcement were available and practicable.
  • The length the checkpoint lasted.
  • Where the checkpoint was set up.

You have the right to make a U-turn to avoid a checkpoint, provided the U-turn is a legal maneuver. If you do decide to go through the checkpoint, you will be asked to show your license and registration. The officer will look for any signs of intoxication. You may politely refuse to answer questions such as “Where are you headed this evening?” or “Have you had anything to drink?” The officer may not search your vehicle unless you give consent to be searched.

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While you technically have the right to refuse a breathalyzer test, doing so may result in the imposition of penalties which are similar to the penalties for an actual DUI, because a refusal is a violation of your “implied consent” to be tested. Penalties for refusing a breathalyzer in New Jersey include:

  • License Suspension – 7 months to 1 year (1 to 2 years in a school zone)
  • Community Service/IID/IDRC – At least 12 hours IDRC
    • Fines and Fees
    • General Fine – $300 to $500 ($600 to $1,000 in a school zone)
    • IDRC Fee – $230/day
    • Drunk Driving Fund – $100
    • Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF) – $100
    • Surcharge – $1,000/year for 3 years ($3,000 total)
    • Neighborhood Services Fund – $75

These penalties become more severe for repeat offenses.

Does DUI Affect Insurance? Will I Lose My Job?

After a DUI arrest, most people worry about the fines and prison time they could receive. While these formal, court-ordered penalties are certainly cause for concern, they are far from being the only consequences of a DWI conviction. Being found guilty of drunk driving can negatively impact major parts of your daily life, including your employment and your insurance payments.

As we said a little earlier, a DWI conviction will be documented on your driving record. Even though the state of New Jersey will not add points to your driving record, many insurance companies will – in most cases, as many as nine points. Insurance companies use points as a measure by which to determine whether you are a risky driver, and the more of a risk you are determined to be, the higher your premium may rise. In extreme cases, your insurance company might decide to drop you altogether. It’s important to continue with your insurance even if you are temporarily banned from driving, because an insurance lapse can lead to substantial fines.

As for employment, the impact to your job depends largely on the sort of industry you work in and the type of occupation you hold. While New Jersey’s Municipal Courts do not contact employers when employees are convicted of DWI, you will be required to disclose the conviction if you work in any of the following positions:

  • Bus Driver
  • Chauffeur
  • Delivery Driver
  • Taxi Driver
  • Truck Driver

If you are a pilot or a member of the U.S. military, you may have to disclose the DUI depending on the circumstances.

Unfortunately, termination is a fairly typical end result for drivers and people who work in transportation-related fields. For instance, it is not uncommon for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fire air traffic controllers who are found guilty of drunk driving.

The vast majority of employers now conduct background checks on job applicants. If the company conducts only a criminal background check, they will not see the DWI because DWI convictions do not create criminal records. However, if you are applying to a job that involves driving or transportation, the business will check your driving record and will see the DWI.

Because a DUI is a violation and not a criminal charge, you do not have to disclose a conviction to potential employers when you are submitting job applications or going to job interviews.

What Happens if DUI Causes Death (Manslaughter) or Injury (Assault by Auto)?

DUI is always a significant legal issue, and should never, under any circumstances, be ignored or taken lightly by the defendant. However, if a person is injured or killed by an accident caused by drunk driving, the charges become far more serious than they would be otherwise.

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When a person is non-fatally injured by a DWI, the driver can be charged with a crime (felony) called assault by auto under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1c, which states the following:

“Assault by auto or vessel is a crime of the third degree if the person drives the vehicle while in violation of 39:4-50 (Driving While Intoxicated) or 39:4-50.4a (Refusal to submit to a breath test) and serious bodily injury results and is a crime of the fourth degree if the person drives the vehicle while in violation of 39:4-50 or 39:4-50.4a and bodily injury results.”

In other words, the way the crime is graded depends on how badly the victim is injured. New Jersey defines “bodily injury” very broadly: any injury which causes “physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.” By comparison, “serious bodily injury” is specifically defined as an injury which either:

  • Creates a major risk of death.
  • Causes major and permanent disfigurement to the face or any part of the body.
  • Results in the long-term loss of, or damage to, any organ or body part.

The penalties for a fourth degree crime include:

  • Sentence – Up to 18 months in jail
  • Fine – Up to $10,000

The penalties for a third degree crime include:

  • Sentence – Up to 5 years in prison
  • Fine – Up to $15,000

If a person is killed, the driver can be charged with an extremely serious crime known as manslaughter, which is codified at N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-4. Manslaughter is a form of homicide, but is differentiated from murder in that murder is charged when the defendant knowingly and deliberately caused death. By comparison, manslaughter is charged when the defendant committed homicide recklessly, rather than intentionally.

Manslaughter is a second degree crime. Possible criminal penalties include:

  • Sentence – Up to 10 years in prison
  • Fine – Up to $150,000

Do I Need a Lawyer for Drunk Driving Charges?

Many DWI defendants have never been arrested before, and face their charges without knowing quite what to expect from New Jersey’s legal system. As such, many defendants make the mistake of assuming they “should” or “have to” plead guilty to the allegations against them, when in fact, it is often advisable to take the opposite approach and fight the charges aggressively. Prosecutors use clever and complicated legal strategies to obtain convictions, so arming yourself with an experienced defense attorney will improve your chances of beating the charges against you.

A knowledgeable DWI lawyer, such as those at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, will thoroughly examine every tiny detail of your case to uncover potential defenses which may be raised. Some common aspects of DUI allegations which can be challenged by your attorney include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Whether the stop was legal.
  • The accuracy of the breathalyzer machine’s readings.
  • Whether the breath test operator was properly licensed.
  • Whether you fully understood your legal rights, which is sometimes an issue in cases where English is not the defendant’s first language.
  • Whether there was probable cause for your arrest.

If you or someone you love was arrested for DWI in New Jersey, you should strongly consider seeking legal assistance from a criminal defense attorney. In addition to handling legal paperwork, protecting your Constitutional rights, and helping you navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system, your defense lawyer will fight aggressively to have the charges against you dismissed or obtain an acquittal (verdict of not guilty).

The sooner you reach out to the Law Offices of John J. Zarych for legal help, the sooner we can start analyzing your case and formulating a defense strategy. Don’t wait to get trusted, respected legal representation in New Jersey: call our law offices at (609) 616-4956 today. Our line is always open, including nights, weekends, and holidays.