Ten Factors That Could Result in Increased Penalties or Sentence Enhancements in DUI/DWI Cases

In New Jersey, a conviction for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated will result in a driver's license suspension lasting at least 3 months, a fine of at least $250, and a sentence of at least 12 hours of education and evaluation at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. Other penalties that can be imposed at the court's discretion include a sentence of up to 30 days in jail and the installation an ignition interlock device on the driver's vehicle. These are only the minimum drinking and driving punishments, however, and more severe penalties are authorized under a number of different circumstances.

This article will discuss 10 different factors that can lead to additional penalties or sentence enhancements in DUI and DWI cases. This article is only an overview, however, and if you've been charged with driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence, you should consult with an experienced New Jersey DUI/DWI Defense Attorney about the penalties you're facing and the possibilities for getting your charges reduced or dismissed.

1. High Blood Alcohol Content

To be charged with a DWI in New Jersey, a driver must have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least .08%. If a driver's BAC is over .10%, however, he'll be subject to increased drunk driving penalties, including a 7 to 12 month license suspension, a fine of $300 to $500, a sentence of 12 to 48 hours at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, and up to 30 days imprisonment. Additionally, first time DWI offenders who have a BAC of .15% or higher must have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles during the period of their license suspension and for 6 to 12 months following reinstatement of their driving privileges.

2. Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

Driving under the influence of drugs (including narcotics, hallucinogens, or any other substances capable of causing a state of intoxication, inebriation, excitement, stupefaction, or the dulling of the brain or nervous system) also results in increased DUI penalties, including a 7 to 12 month license suspension, a fine of $300 to $500, a sentence of 12 to 48 hours at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, and up to 30 days imprisonment.

3. Second, Third, and Subsequent DUI/DWI Offenses

The penalties for drunk driving and driving under the influence are significantly enhanced for repeat offenders. For a second time DUI/DWI offense, the minimum penalties include a fine of $500 to $1,000, at least 30 days of community service, a sentence of 48 hours to 90 days imprisonment, and a two year license suspension. For a third time DUI/DWI offense, the minimum penalties include a fine of $1,000, a 10 year license suspension, and at least 180 days in jail (up to 90 days of which may be served in a drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program). Second and third time offenders must also have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles during the period of their license suspension and for 1 to 3 years following reinstatement of their driving privileges.

4. Receiving a DUI/DWI in a School Zone

DWI and DUI sentences are also enhanced when the violation occurs on or within 1,000 feet of a school property or while driving through a school crossing, and it's no defense that school wasn't in session at the time of the offense or that the driver wasn't aware of being in a school zone. The minimum penalties for first offenses include a fine of $500 to $800, up to 60 days imprisonment, and a 1 to 2 year license suspension. For second offenses, the penalties are increased to a fine ranging from $1,000 to $2,000, 60 days of community service, a sentence of 4 to 180 days imprisonment (up to 90 days of which may be served by performing community service), and a 4 year license suspension. For third offenses, the penalties include a fine of $2,000, imprisonment for 180 days (up to 90 days of which may be served at a drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program), and a 20 year license suspension.

5. Receiving a DUI/DWI with a Suspended or Revoked License

If a driver receives a DUI or DWI while his license is suspended or revoked, the license suspension issued for the DUI/DWI commences at the end of the existing suspension and the driver will also be required to pay a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000 for the invalid license offense. Additional penalties are also imposed for driving with a suspended license if the suspension was issued for a DUI or DWI conviction. These penalties include revoking the driver's vehicle registration, a $500 fine, an extra 1 to 2 year license suspension, and a sentence of 10 to 90 days in county jail.

6. Refusing to Submit to a Breath Test

Refusing to take a breath test results in a license suspension of 7 to 12 months, although this can be concurrent with a DWI license suspension arising from the same incident. The suspension term is increased to 2 years for a second breath test refusal, however, and third offenses result in a license suspension lasting for 10 years. The suspension for second and subsequent refusal offenses, moreover, must be consecutive with any related DWI license suspension, not concurrent. Refusing a breathalyzer also results in fines: $300 to $500 for first offenses, $500 to $1,000 for second offenses, and $1,000 for third and subsequent offenses. These penalties, like those for DUIs and DWIs, are increased significantly if the refusal occurs in a school zone.

7. Receiving a DUI/DWI with a Minor in the Vehicle

A parent or guardian who receives a DUI or DWI while his minor child is in the vehicle with him is guilty of a disorderly persons offense, separate and apart from the violation for driving under the influence, and will be subject to a license suspension of up to 6 months and a sentence of up to 5 days of community service. These penalties may be either consecutive or concurrent with any penalties issued for the DUI/DWI.

8. Drinking While Driving and Open Container Violations

It's illegal for a driver or any of his passengers to consume alcohol while the vehicle is being operated, and they'll be presumed to have done so if there are any open alcohol containers in the vehicle. In addition to any DWI penalties that the driver may receive, he and his passengers can be charged with drinking while driving and for the possession of open containers. First time offenses for these charges result in a $200 fine and subsequent offenses can be punished with either a $250 fine or 10 days of community service.

9. Reckless Driving and Other Traffic Violations

Drivers who receive DUI and DWI sentences are frequently issued citations for other traffic offenses and driving violations as well, such as speeding, failing to maintain the driver's lane, running stop signs or red lights, or failing to use appropriate turn signals. Speeding tickets and other traffic citations usually carry their own fines, and they can also support charges for reckless driving, which is punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $50 to $200, except for second and subsequent reckless driving convictions, which are punishable by up to 3 months imprisonment and $100 to $500 in fines.

10. Drunk Driving Injuries

An intoxicated driver who injures anyone else during a vehicle collision will face serious criminal charges in addition to any DUI/DWI penalties. If the driver is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and causes the death of another person, he can be charged with second degree death by auto and can receive a sentence of 5 to 10 years imprisonment. If a drunk driver causes serious bodily injury-defined as an injury that creates a risk of death or that causes permanent disfigurement or harm to a person's bodily functions-then it's classified as third degree assault by auto, which is punishable by a sentence of 3 to 5 years. If the only injuries are non-serious, then assault by auto is a fourth degree crime with a possible sentence of up to 18 months in prison.

What to do if you're charged with a DUI or DWI in New Jersey

The most important thing you can do to avoid the penalties and consequences of a conviction for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated is to consult with an experienced New Jersey Drunk Driving Attorney. Even if you were caught red-handed, a skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed by negotiating a plea deal, challenging the admissibility of evidence or the classification of prior DUI/DWI convictions, or by raising constitutional defenses. The state has an extremely high success rate in prosecuting drunk drivers, so without a DUI/DWI lawyer on your side, a guilty conviction and the applicable penalties are almost guaranteed.

To discuss your case with an experienced attorney, confidentially and at no cost, contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer, through the email form on my website or at 1-866-664-8118. As a former prosecutor and current criminal defense lawyer with more than 35 years of experience, I'll go through the charges in your case and give you an honest assessment of the penalties you could be facing and the best options for reducing or defeating your charges.