How Do Prescription Drug DWIs Differ from Alcohol DWIs in New Jersey?

New Jersey, there are four different classes of offenses for driving while intoxicated (DWI).  There is a separate level of DWI for a second-time offense and for third or further offenses, but there are also two different levels of first-time DWIs, often referred to as “tiers.”  While both tiers of DWI cover alcohol DWI, only the higher tier is available for drug-based DWI.  If you or a loved one was arrested and charged with drunk or drugged driving, talk to the Atlantic City DWI defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today for help with your case.

New Jersey’s Alcohol DWI Laws

As mentioned, New Jersey has 4 ways to charge DWI.  For a first-time offense, you will be charged under either N.J.S.A. § 39:4-50(a)(1)(i) or (a)(1)(ii).  For a second DWI offense, you will be charged under subsection (a)(2), and for a third or subsequent DWI offense, you will be charged under subsection (a)(3).  The second and third subsections do not take into account your level of intoxication, but the two “tiers” for a first-time DWI offense look at your level of intoxication when charging you for drunk driving.

The DWI offenses under subsection (a)(1)(i) are sometimes known as a “low-tier” DWI.  These DWI offenses include driving while you are generally intoxicated by alcohol or when you drive with a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) over .08%.  So-called “general intoxication” is still charged in cases where the driver was driving dangerously because they were intoxicated, but their BAC was below the “legal limit,” or they refused breath testing.  However, if the driver’s BAC is .08% to .10%, they fall squarely within the definition of this level of DWI.

In some cases, the driver’s BAC is even higher.  Drivers who get behind the wheel a higher level of intoxication are punished under subsection (a)(1)(ii) instead.  This “high-tier” DWI covers driving with a BAC over .10%.

The difference between a BAC of .08% and .10% is often only the difference of 1-2 drinks for most adults of around average weight.  However, the penalties for a DWI with a higher-tier BAC have a difference of around $50-100 in fines and an additional 4 months of driver’s license suspensions.

Prescription Medication DWIs in New Jersey

DWI is “driving while intoxicated,” but covers driving under the influence of drugs as well as alcohol.  The statute encompasses all “narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing” under one subsection of the statute, regardless of whether the drug is an illicit drug like heroin or cocaine or a prescription drug.  This means that there is no special protection for prescription drugs, and driving while on any drug that affects your driving could mean being charged with DWI.

DWIs for drugs are charged under the same subsection as the “high-tier” alcohol DWIs..  This means that driving under the influence of drugs is automatically considered as severe as the highest level of alcohol-based DWI.

Talk to your doctor – and perhaps a lawyer – before driving while taking prescription medications.  Some medications warn of potential drowsiness or state that users should not operate heavy machinery.  Your doctor can help you understand these side effects.  While many everyday medications, like heart medication, may require a prescription, they may not have side-effects that interfere with your driving.  On the other hand, prescription painkillers, muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, and other commonly-abused drugs may have side effects that make driving dangerous.  Talk to an attorney to see if these kinds of medications could lead to DWI charges before you get behind the wheel.  Also, remember that just because you have a prescription to take the medication does not give you permission to drive while taking the medication.

Penalties for Alcohol and Prescription Drug DWI

To clarify, a “low-tier” DWI includes general alcohol intoxication and driving with a BAC over .08%, while a “high-tier” DWI includes general drug intoxication and driving with a BAC over .10%.  The penalties depend on the tier of DWI, not the substance involved.

In general, the penalties for a first time DWI for a low-tier, alcohol-based DWI include:

  • Fines of $250-400,
  • Potential imprisonment for up to 30 days,
  • A 3-month driver’s license suspension,
  • Fees totaling around $325,
  • Annual MVC surcharges,
  • Education at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) for 12-48 hours,
  • The potential of ordering an ignition interlock,
  • “Supervised visitation” programs which may include community service, and
  • Screening and evaluation by the IDRC.

The penalties for a first time DWI for a high-tier alcohol DWI or a drug-based DWI are the same, except for the following changes:

  • Fines range from $300-500 and
  • The license suspension lasts 7 months to 1 year.

For a second DWI, the penalties are equal regardless of whether the DWI is based on alcohol or drugs, and regardless of what the BAC was.  These penalties include many of the same surcharges and program participation, but the fines, jail time, and license suspension are increased to:

  • Fines of $500-1,000,
  • Imprisonment for 48 hours minimum, up to 90 days,
  • A 2-year license suspension, and
  • 30 days of mandatory community service.

For a third or subsequent DWI, the penalties are increased to include:

  • A $1,000 fine,
  • A minimum of 180 days in jail, and
  • A 10-year license suspension.

Atlantic City Prescription Drug DWI Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations

If you or a loved one was arrested and charged with a DWI for a prescription drug, illegal drug, or alcohol, talk to our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today.  We have decades of experience representing people accused of crimes and may be able to help with your case.  For a free consultation, call our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.

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