If you were arrested and charged with a DWI offense in New Jersey, you may be looking at the potential for harsh penalties. Every DWI charge comes with the potential of jail time and high fines, even for a first offense. Moreover, the MVC may slap you with surcharges and additional payments if your license is suspended. However, most of the penalties in a NJ DWI offense are optional penalties, or they are part of a range of potential penalties the judge may choose from. This means you can have your penalties reduced or increased in a DWI case, based on certain factors. The Atlantic City DWI defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych offer free consultations to help you understand how you can fight your DWI charges in South Jersey.
Potential DWI Sentences
Before understanding how your DWI sentence can be reduced, it is important to understand what the potential punishments are for DWI in New Jersey.
For a first time, lower-level DWI conviction, you could face fines of $250 to $400, lose your license for 3 months, and face up to 30 days in jail. An upper-level DWI conviction can yield $300 to $500 in fines, 7 months to 1 year without a license, and up to 30 days in jail.
A second time DWI could result in $500 to $1,000 in fines, 48 hours to 90 days in jail, and a 2-year license suspension. Lastly, a third or subsequent DWI has a $1,000 fine, at least 180 days in jail, and a 10-year license suspension.
Note that most of these punishments contain ranges or optional penalties, which leaves the final decision up to the judge and the prosecutors. This gives you and your attorney plenty of room to make legal arguments and demonstrate that harsher punishment is unnecessary. The elements of DWI crimes and other potential issues surrounding a DWI event provide some clear factors that a judge may consider when choosing your sentence.
Also keep in mind that there may be other penalties, such as MVC surcharges, driver’s education courses and screening, as well as the requirement to use an ignition interlock on your car. These can have other costs and burdens associated with them.
Factors to Lower DWI Penalties
Drunk driving is a crime because of the potential risk of harm to yourself and others. People say that drunk driving is like Russian roulette – there’s a chance it may turn out okay, but some instances have very serious consequences. The sentence should always fit the crime, which is part of why DWI has such varied options for judges. Some DWI cases cause no harm or serious risks, and those should see lower penalties than deadly or disastrous cases. Factors like the following can help convince judges to give lower sentences:
Level of Intoxication
The DWI statute already sets different penalties for different BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels. A “low-tier” DWI involves general alcohol intoxication, which includes any intoxication, even if there is no BAC calculation or your BAC is below .08%. The low-tier also covers any driving with a BAC between .08% and .10%. In contrast, the higher tier DWI covers general drug intoxication or driving with a BAC of .10% or higher.
Aside from facing automatic penalties for different levels of intoxication, a judge may scale the punishment based on BAC. For example, a driver with a BAC of .081% can face up to 30 days in jail, but a judge may wave jail time for a BAC like this. On the other hand, a driver with a BAC as high as .30% or a driver under the influence of multiple hard drugs may be more likely to face a jail sentence.
If you cause injuries or death because of your drunk driving, you could face additional charges. Charges like vehicular assault (“assault by auto” under N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c)) or vehicular homicide/vehicular manslaughter (N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-5) are common for deaths or injuries caused by drunk driving. Additionally, you could also face increased penalties on your DWI charges. Judges can consider any facts related to the offense when determining the sentence, and they may consider a DWI case with injury to be far worse than a simple DWI offense, increasing the penalties accordingly. However, a DWI with no injuries or crashes may remove the need for higher penalties.
Other Traffic Offenses
Police may be unable to tell you are driving under the influence unless you commit another traffic offense. Swerving, running red lights, or speeding may be the reason behind your initial traffic stop, and these offenses could be charged alongside the DWI. Even if those charges get dropped, a judge may look at your unsafe driving as a reason to increase the penalties during DWI sentencing.
Atlantic City DWI Defense Lawyers
An Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych will represent people accused of DWI and related offenses in South Jersey. If you or a loved one was charged with DWI, talk to an attorney today. For a free consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.