Driving while intoxicated (DWI), also called driving under the influence (DUI), is a serious offense in New Jersey. Along with reckless driving charges and a few other traffic violations, DWI is one of the most serious traffic offenses you can commit with your car. However, DWI is not technically considered a “crime.” Still, you can face arrest, go to trial, and even be sent to jail based on a DWI offense in New Jersey. The Atlantic City DWI defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain why DWI is classified this way and what that classification means if you were charged with DWI in South Jersey.
Is DWI a “Crime” in New Jersey
New Jersey uses a few uncommon names to classify offenses. First, most offenses punished with the potential of more than a year in jail are known as “crimes” or, more specifically, “indictable crimes.” These are further broken down into four “degrees” of crime, with fourth degree crimes being the lightest and first degree crimes being the most serious. Lower in severity from “crimes” are “disorderly persons offenses.” These are punished with a maximum of 6 months in jail and fines of $1,000, with a lighter level of “petty disorderly persons offense” in some cases.
However, DWI is not classified under any of these levels of crime. Instead, New Jersey’s DWI statute is found in the traffic code under N.J.S.A. Title 39. Unless stated in the statute, most traffic offenses are not technically classified as “crimes.” This means that DWI is not properly called a crime but rather an offense, or a traffic offense.
However, just because DWI is not a crime does not mean that it can’t result in jail time or that it should be taken lightly. The fines for DWI charges can be extremely high, and all DWI charges carry a potential of at least 30 days in jail. All penalties are also increased for repeat DWI offenses.
What Are Your Rights in a DWI Case?
Since DWI is not technically a “crime,” there are a few important things you should be aware of if you were charged with DWI.
First, you should understand that, even though it technically isn’t a crime, you still have the right to a trial and an attorney. In many cases in New Jersey, the crime is not severe enough to allow you the right to a jury trial, but you still have the right to go before the court and present evidence in your own defense. These “bench trials” are still full-fledged trials, and you can still beat the charges against you or have them dropped if the prosecution cannot prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. When going through the trial and pretrial process, you also have the right to have an attorney present during questioning and the right to have an attorney represent you during your trial.
Second, because DWI is not a crime, it may not appear on your criminal record. Usually, a criminal record is for both crimes and disorderly persons offenses and is managed by the NJ courts and police. Since DWI is a traffic offense, it appears on your driving record instead. This means that these records are managed by the MVC (the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission) and always remain part of your permanent driving record.
This leads us into an important third point: DWI offenses cannot be expunged from your record. Expungement in New Jersey removes entries from your criminal record if they are old enough, if you remain free from other crimes, and if you pay-off your debt to society (both monetary and through a term of jail or probation). Expungement is only available for your criminal record, including indictable crimes and disorderly persons offenses – not traffic offenses.
Do I Need a Lawyer for New Jersey DWI Charges?
Courts or police may try to convince you that you do not need a lawyer for DWI charges. They may point to the fact that DWI is not a crime, and they may advocate that you handle the charges yourself. However, you still face the potential of jail time and high fines, and there are dozens of benefits to having an attorney on your case.
Experienced DWI lawyers have seen many cases and understand how to make the process simpler for their clients and harder for the prosecution. Evidence from breathalyzer tests, blood tests, and even confessions can be eliminated from being used against you under certain grounds. Our attorneys work to ensure a strong, strategic legal defense in our DWI cases.
Atlantic City DWI Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was charged with DWI in Atlantic City, talk to the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Our attorneys can help fight the evidence and charges against you and work to have your charges dismissed or penalties reduced. For a free consultation, call our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.