New Jersey’s DWI Laws and Conviction Penalties

The consequences of a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DWI in New Jersey.

New Jersey prohibits impaired driving, as does every other state. However, New Jersey's DWI (driving while intoxicated) laws are unique in how they define the offense and penalties they impose on convicted drivers.

This article outlines exactly how the law defines a DWI and the penalties a driver might face for a first, second, and third DWI conviction in New Jersey.

New Jersey's DWI Laws

Specifically, New Jersey prohibits the operation or attempted operation of a motor vehicle:

  • with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • while under the influence of any intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug.

In other words, a DWI conviction can be based on either actual impairment or an excessive BAC.

What "Attempted Operation" Means in New Jersey

Many impaired driving arrests start with a traffic violation or a vehicle accident. But New Jersey police are actually permitted to arrest a person for DWI before they move their vehicle and put others in danger.

A driver can be convicted of a DWI based on attempted operation if there's evidence of intent to drive the vehicle, along with some overt action to engage the vehicle mechanisms. So, even if the vehicle doesn't move, turning on the engine, engaging the lights, and/or putting the vehicle in gear can lead to a conviction.

Proving "Under the Influence" for a DWI Offense in New Jersey

With evidence of driver BAC that's over the legal limit, prosecutors don't have to prove actual driver impairment. A DWI charge based on BAC is sometimes called a "per se DWI."

Alternatively, a prosecutor can prove that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A driver is considered "under the influence" when his or her mental faculties or physical capabilities have been substantially deteriorated or diminished. Evidence of impairment might come in the form of officer testimony related to how the driver was acting or expert testimony as to the effects of certain substances.

Penalties for a First, Second, and Third DWI Offense in New Jersey

The penalties for a DWI are set by statute and generally depend on the number of prior convictions the driver has. If a prior DWI violation is more than ten years old, the DWI charge will be reduced one level. For example, a third-offense DWI will be punished as a second offense if one of the prior offenses is more than ten years old. All DWI offenses are classified as "serious traffic offenses" in New Jersey.

Jail, Fines, and Community Service for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd DWI Conviction in New Jersey

The chart below outlines the range of jail time, community service, and fines for a first, second, and third (or subsequent) DWI conviction in New Jersey.

1st Offense

2nd Offense

3rd or Subsequent Offense

Jail

Up to 30 days

48 hours to 90 days

180 days

Fines

$250 to $400 ($300 to $500 if BAC of .10% or more or under influence of drugs)

$500 to $1,000

$1,000

Community Service

None

30 days

Up to 90 days (can count towards jail term)

New Jersey DWI Probation

In most cases, the judge will place the offender on probation rather than impose the maximum jail term. During probation, the offender will have to abide by certain conditions, including monitored sobriety and cooperation with the state's Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. Failure to comply with these conditions can result in jail time.

Before beginning probation, repeat offenders must serve a minimum amount of time in jail (48 hours for a second offense and 180 days for a third or subsequent offense.)

Substance Abuse Treatment for New Jersey DWI Offenders

Prior to sentencing for a DWI conviction, the offender must complete a drug and alcohol evaluation. Based on these results, the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) will choose a program that's suited to the offender's needs.

For a first offense, the driver must complete at least 12 to 48 hours in the program. Repeat offenders must enroll in and complete a full program, which often includes six hours of daily treatment participation.

Days spent in the IDRC program can be counted towards the offender's jail sentence.

New Jersey's DWI Enhancements for Minor Passengers

Impaired drivers who were transporting passengers under the age of 18 will face separate, additional penalties. Offenders will generally be charged with a separate disorderly persons charge and face additional jail and fines.

License-Related Penalties for New Jersey DWI Offenses

Persons arrested for DWI often face immediate driving restrictions even before charges are filed. At the time of arrest, the offender's vehicle will be towed and impounded for 12 hours.

The arresting officer will generally request that the driver take a breath test. How the driver responds to the request and/or the results of the test will determine the driver's license penalties.

New Jersey's Implied Consent Law

Under New Jersey's "implied consent" law, all drivers who are lawfully arrested for DWI are required to submit to a breath test. The results of the test can be used against the driver in court.

Drivers who unlawfully refuse testing can be charged with criminal refusal. Additionally, police can always apply for a warrant to obtain a blood sample.

Chemical Test Refusal in New Jersey

A driver who refuses testing will typically receive a citation (similar to a traffic ticket). Generally, the penalties for an unlawful refusal are:

  • a seven-month to one-year license revocation and $300 to $500 in fines for a first offense.
  • a one-to-two-year license revocation and $500 to $1,000 fines for a second offense, and
  • an eight-year license revocation and $1,000 fine for a third offense.

If not already convicted of DWI, the offender must also enroll in and complete the IDRC program.

License Revocation for DWI Convictions in New Jersey

The court will also order license revocation as part of a DWI conviction sentence. The period of revocation for a conviction is generally:

  • three months for a first offense (seven to 12 months if the driver's BAC is .10% or more)
  • one to two years for a second offense, and
  • eight years for a third offense

License revocations generally run back-to-back for refusal and conviction revocations, but the judge can grant credit against the DWI conviction revocation for a first-offense refusal.

New Jersey IID Restricted License

For DWI incidents involving alcohol, the court will generally issue a restricted driver's license, allowing the offender to drive during the suspension period.

During this restriction period, the driver will be permitted to operate a vehicle only with an installed ignition interlock device (IID). The offender must maintain the IID for three to 15 months, depending on the driver's BAC. For second and subsequent DWI convictions, the driver must use the IID during the standard suspension period and will then be restricted for an additional two to four years to driving with an IID.

Insurance Surcharges

All drivers convicted of either DWI or unlawful test refusal are required to pay annual surcharges for three years after license reinstatement. This surcharge is $1,000 a year for first and second offenses and $1,5000 per year for subsequent violations.

New Jersey's Underage Drinking and Driving Laws

New Jersey has a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21. Underage drivers who are caught operating a vehicle with a BAC of at least .01% will lose their license for 30 to 90 days and must complete 15 to 30 days of community service. These offenders must also enroll in and complete the IDRC program, although there is no mandatory minimum duration.

Teens holding a graduated driver's license must complete an additional four-hour class and will lose driving privileges for an additional 90 days before they can proceed with the licensing program.

Talk with a New Jersey DWI Lawyer

The consequences of a DWI conviction in New Jersey are serious. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, it's important to get legal assistance as soon as possible. A qualified DWI lawyer can guide you in deciding the best course of action in your case.

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