What Happens if You Are Convicted of DWI if You Have No Prior Criminal History?

Tens of thousands of people are arrested for drunk driving in New Jersey every year. Many of these people are teenagers and young adults who, lacking any prior experience with the criminal justice system, go up against their charges feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and alone.

Due to New Jersey’s tremendous number of drunk driving cases, our Atlantic City DWI defense lawyers have compiled this short, simple guide for defendants and their family members. It covers the possible penalties for first-time offenders both above and below the legal drinking age and explains some of New Jersey’s alternative sentencing programs, which give offenders the opportunity to minimize or avoid incarceration.

If you or your child was arrested for drunk driving, a skilled and knowledgeable defense attorney can make the difference between going to jail and retaining your cherished freedoms. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our bilingual legal team brings over 45 years of combined experience to every DWI case we handle. Call us today at (609) 625-3006 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation. Se habla español.

teen drinking in handcuffs

What Are the Fines and Penalties for a First Offense DWI in NJ?

Some states call drugged or drunk driving DUI, or Driving Under the Influence. New Jersey calls it DWI, which stands for Driving While Intoxicated. The penalties for DWI in New Jersey depend on the following factors:

  • Whether the driver was driving a passenger vehicle or a commercial vehicle, like a semi-trailer.
  • Whether the driver had any child passengers.
  • Whether anyone was injured or killed by the DWI.
  • Whether the driver was on probation or parole at the time of the arrest.
  • Whether the DWI occurred in a school zone (within 1,000 feet of a school).
  • The driver’s exact BAC, or Blood Alcohol Content, at the time of the arrest.
  • Whether the driver was below the legal drinking age (21 years).
    • The BAC threshold for underage drivers is just 0.01%. The normal 0.08% threshold does not apply to minors and juveniles.

If a driver is found guilty of a first-offense DWI, with a BAC of at least 0.08% but less than 0.10%, he or she could potentially face the following penalties:

  • Jail – Up to 30 days
  • License Suspension – Up to 3 months
  • Fines and Fees – Up to $3,905
    • General Fine – $250 to $400
    • IDRC (Intoxicated Driver Resource Center) Fee – $230
    • Drunk Driving Fund – $100
    • AERF (Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund) – $100
    • Neighborhood Services Fund – $75
    • Surcharge – $3,000 ($1,000 per year for 3 years)

If the same driver was under 21 and had a BAC as low as just 0.01%, he or she could face the same penalties, as well as up to mandatory IDRC participation and up to 30 days of mandatory community service.

If the same driver was of legal drinking age and had a BAC of 0.10% or greater, he or she could face enhanced penalties. For instance, the license suspension could last as long as seven months to one year, instead of three months.

Alternative Sentencing Options for Defendants with Clean Records

The courts recognize that many of those arrested for DWI are people with clean records who simply made a terrible, one-time mistake. In these types of cases, the courts are sometimes willing to order participation in alternative sentencing programs instead of incarceration in jail, depending on the circumstances. It is relatively uncommon – though certainly not impossible – to be sentenced to jail for a first-offense DWI conviction.

caught stealing

If the defendant has an otherwise clean record and the DWI did not result in any deaths or injuries, he or she may be eligible for one of the alternative sentencing options below:

  • Electronic Monitoring – Also known as house arrest, this involves wearing an electronic ankle bracelet. There are generally some confinement exceptions for work and school.
  • Work Furlough – The offender works as normal during the day, and only spends evenings in jail.
  • Work Release – The offender goes to work at a predetermined location during the day, generally on assignment by the appropriate Probation Department. The offender may sleep at home, but is typically restricted from traveling elsewhere.
  • Rehabilitation or Sober Living – If the offender struggles with alcohol addiction or abuse, rehabilitation or a sober living environment may be more appropriate than incarceration.

Pretrial Intervention, also known as PTI, is not available for drunk driving offenders because DWI is technically not a crime in New Jersey. It is a serious traffic violation. Therefore, a DWI conviction will not give you a criminal record. Nonetheless, all DWI defendants should take their charges seriously, because a conviction can have other negative effects. To give just a few examples, a conviction of DWI can:

  • Hurt your professional reputation.
  • Damage your credit score.
  • Result in being discharged from military service.
  • Result in loss of security clearance, if you work for the government.
  • Result in a major increase in your car insurance premium.
  • Take away your ability to commute through suspension of your license.
  • Pose a major obstacle to certain types of employment and work licenses. If you are a teacher, for instance, you could be denied tenure. If you are a pilot, your flying license may be taken away.

These sorts of long-term, secondary consequences are often more devastating than the fines and other penalties which are formally imposed by the courts.

If you or someone you love was charged with DWI in Atlantic City or the surrounding area, it’s critically important to seek legal help immediately. To start discussing your case in a free and completely private consultation, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych right away at (609) 625-3006. Our line is always open, including nights, weekends, and holidays.