Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DWI) is a very serious offense under New Jersey law. Penalties often include heavy fines, losing your driver’s license, and things like installing an interlock ignition device in your car. Many people want to know if their DWIs will be charged as felonies or misdemeanors. The answer to that question is somewhat complicated as New Jersey follows a different system of charging offenses than most other states. Read on to learn about what types of DWIs are considered felonies in from the experienced New Jersey DWI attorneys at Law Offices of John J. Zarych.
How DWIs are Charged in New Jersey
New Jersey is unique because it does not charge crimes as felonies or misdemeanors. Instead, offenses in New Jersey are charged as either indictable crimes, often referred to simply as “crimes,” or disorderly persons offenses. To make things easier to understand, crimes in New Jersey are more akin to felonies because they tend to be more serious offenses. Disorderly persons offenses are more like misdemeanors because they are often less severe and carry lighter penalties.
A crime is an offense punishable by imprisonment of more than 6 months. Crimes are also divided into four subcategories. Crimes may be, from least to most serious, fourth, third, second, or first-degree crimes. If an offense is not designated as a crime, it is probably a disorderly persons offense.
Because New Jersey uses this unique system of charging criminal offenses, there are no DWI offenses that can be charged as felonies. Felonies do not exist in New Jersey. However, that does not mean there are no serious consequences for DWIs.
A DWI, on its own, is not an indictable crime in New Jersey. This is not because DWIs are not considered severe, but because DWIs are classified under the state’s traffic code rather than its criminal code. A DWI is a very serious traffic offense, but not technically a criminal offense. If you are guilty of a DWI, it will appear on your driving history rather than your criminal record.
However, certain offenses may involve drinking and driving that are considered indictable crimes. These are often offenses that happen as a result of someone’s DWI. For example, the offenses of driving on a suspended license, fleeing the scene of an accident, and vehicular manslaughter are all charged as indictable crimes.
DWI-Related Offenses and Penalties in New Jersey
A DWI alone will not be an indictable offense because it is not categorized as a criminal offense under New Jersey’s criminal code. Instead, a DWI is a traffic violation and does not appear on someone’s criminal history. However, several offenses are often associated with DWIs that may be charged as indictable crimes.
Driving on a Suspended License
If you were guilty of a DWI and had your license suspended, you may not drive a vehicle under any circumstances. Driving on a suspended license may be charged as a fourth-degree crime in New Jersey. While DWIs are not the only offense that could result in a suspended license, they are certainly one of the most common ways licenses are suspended. If you are found guilty of a fourth-degree crime, you may face up to 18 months in prison.
Fleeing the Scene of an Accident
Car accidents happen every day. Some are relatively minor, while others are quite serious. In any accident, it is important for all parties involved to remain at the scene of the accident and wait for police and emergency services to arrive. To do otherwise may be charged as a crime.
Knowingly fleeing the scene of an accident that resulted in serious bodily harm may be a third-degree crime in New Jersey. The key is that the person must be aware that they were just involved in an accident and then chose to leave. If you were unaware that an accident occurred, you might not be charged for continuing to drive away. Additionally, the charge can only be applied if someone suffered serious injuries in the accident. If found guilty, a third-degree crime may be punished by a prison term of three to five years.
Vehicular manslaughter, referred to as death by auto or vessel or reckless vehicular homicide, may be charged as a second-degree crime. This offense requires that a driver cause the death of another person as a result of reckless driving. The key to this crime is recklessness. A driver must have been driving in a reckless manner to be charged. Recklessness can be inferred in several different ways, including the driver being drunk. A second-degree crime in New Jersey may be punishable by at least 5 but not more than 10 years in prison.
Each of these crimes does not necessarily require the defendant also to be charged with a DWI. In fact, each of these crimes may occur separately from a DWI. However, DWIs are very frequently connected to these crimes. If you were charged with a DWI and another criminal offense, speak to our Atlantic City DWI defense lawyers right away.
When DWIs Become More Serious Crimes in New Jersey
As stated previously, a DWI is technically not a criminal offense. A DWI typically comes with some serious consequences, like losing your license and paying fines, but it is not a criminal offense under New Jersey law. Therefore, a DWI cannot be charged as an indictable crime. However, DWIs often lead to other offenses that are considered indictable crimes.
Indictable crimes tend to result from the circumstances surrounding the DWI rather than the DWI itself. For example, if you drive under the influence and strike a pedestrian and then flee the scene, that is a crime. You can be charged with the crime of fleeing the scene of an accident. If that pedestrian dies from their injuries, you can also be charged with reckless vehicular homicide. If you are stopped for a DWI and your license is suspended from a previous DWI, you can be charged with a crime.
The more serious the situation of DWI is, the more severe your charges can be. For example, if people get hurt or you cause property damage, you may face criminal penalties. If you are unsure about your criminal charges after a DWI, contact our New Jersey DWI defense lawyers for guidance.
Call Our New Jersey DWI Defense Attorneys to Discuss Your Case
If you face crimes associated with a DWI, please call our Cape May DWI defense attorneys immediately. Your criminal charges could be very serious and you might be facing years in prison. Set up a free legal consultation with the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956.