DUI lawyerNo one ever plans on driving drunk. If they’re being honest, however, most people would probably admit that they have, on at least one occasion, gotten behind the wheel of a car after they have consumed too much alcohol. Some people probably do so on a more frequent basis, even if they don’t consider themselves to be drunk. “But officer, I only had a drink at happy hour and a glass of wine (or 2) with dinner”. Unfortunately, the number of drinks you consumed isn’t the measure by which a DUI/DWI is determined.

But I wasn’t really drunk.

In it’s “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” campaign, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has made this point very clear:

Alcohol not only impairs your ability to drive, it impairs your judgment about whether you can or should drive. Too often, people who drink think they are okay to get behind the wheel because they only feel a “buzz.” The truth is you don’t have to be falling down drunk to be a menace to everyone around you on the highways. Remember, Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving.

Should you lawyer up?

Simply put, if law enforcement determines that you have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level of .08 or more, you will be charged with driving under the influence no matter how “fine” you feel.

If you are pulled over, you will need to ask yourself the following questions: 1) Do you need a lawyer for a DUI, and 2) If so, when? The answers are simple: 1) Yes, and 2) Now.

The most obvious reason for obtaining an attorney for a DUI as soon as possible is that, as is the case in any criminal matter, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law”. A confession is not the only way in which your words can help prove your guilt, however. Anything you say that could undermine your defense (referred to as “an admission against interest”) is fair game for the prosecution. If the prosecutor isn’t willing to offer you a plea bargain, things you said at the time of arrest or afterward may weaken your case even more.

How bad can it get?

It’s no secret that the penalties for a DUI conviction are severe. Be aware that penalties under our state drunk driving laws can be imposed for a variety of reasons.

  • In general, a driver in New Jersey with a blood alcohol content (BAC) reading of .08 or higher is subject to conviction for DUI/DWI.
  • Conviction also awaits a driver under the age of 21 with a BAC of .02% or higher.
  • A driver of a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04% or higher can also be convicted under New Jersey Law.

Penalties for a conviction of driving under the influence.

First Offense

  • Up to 30 days in jail
  • License suspension from 3 to 12 months
  • Fines from $250 to $500
  • Possible court-ordered installation of IID (Ignition Interlock Device)
  • Mandatory attendance at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Second Offense

  • Jail term up to 90 days
  • A license suspension of 2 years
  • Fines from $500 to $1000
  • Possible court-ordered IID
  • Mandatory attendance at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Third Offense

  • Up to 180 days in jail
  • 10-year license suspension
  • Fines up to $1000
  • Likely court-ordered IID
  • Mandatory attendance at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Failure to submit to a sobriety test.

If you drive in New Jersey, you are deemed to have given your “implied consent” to submit to a chemical test (urine or blood exam or breathalyzer test) upon demand by the law enforcement officer who pulled you over/arrived at the scene of a motor vehicle accident. Failure to submit to such an exam has the following possible outcomes:

First Offense

  • License suspension for 7-12 months
  • Fine of $300-$500
  • Mandatory participation in IDRC (Intoxicated Driver Resource Center) program

Second Offense

  • License suspension of 2 years
  • Fine ranging from $500-$1000
  • Minimum of 12 hours of IDRC participation

Third Offense

  • License suspension of 10 years
  • $1000 fine
  • 12-hour minimum IDRC participation

Conviction of DUI in a school zone or school crossing.

If you were driving through a school zone or school crossing when the police stopped you, you are subject to the following enhanced penalties if convicted:

First Offense

  • Imprisonment for up to 60 days
  • License suspension for 12 to 24 months
  • Fines ranging from $500 to $800
  • Mandatory attendance at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Second Offense

  • Imprisonment from 96 hours to 180 days
  • License suspension for at least 48 months
  • Fines of $1000 to $2000
  • 60 days of community service
  • Mandatory attendance at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Third Offense

  • 180 days in jail
  • Suspension of driving privilege for 20 years (yes, you read that correctly)
  • Fine of $2000
  • Mandatory attendance at Intoxicated Driver Resource Center

Other Consequences

In addition to the penalties we have already addressed, a DUI conviction can result in the following as well:

Motor Vehicle Commission surcharges

  • If convicted of a DUI, the MVC will assess $1000 in annual insurance surcharges for 3 consecutive years.
  • A third DUI conviction within 3 years will result in an insurance surcharge of $1500 per year for 3 consecutive years.
    • Note: What most people don’t realize is that these surcharges are applicable even if you are convicted of a DUI in another state.
  • Failure to pay a MVC surcharge results in an indefinite driving license suspension. The state may also file a lien which permits it to seize your property to whatever extent is necessary to satisfy the unpaid surcharge amount.

Putting your employment at risk

If your job duties include driving, a license suspension will make that impossible.

  • Some folks attempt to hide a DUI conviction from their employer so that they can continue to perform their job. Do not even consider doing this. Driving while under a license suspension will result in additional penalties to those already imposed for the DUI conviction.
    • Unlike other states, a conditional driving license is not available in New Jersey for any reason. Suspension means suspension and you will not be permitted to drive at all while your license remains suspended.

A DUI conviction may result in the suspension or revocation of certain professional licenses. A suspension of your driving privilege may also impact your eligibility for specific professional licenses. You may also be prohibited from engaging in specific activities (such as coaching youth sports or otherwise working with minors, for example).

Visitation and custody rights

A license suspension may present some significant challenges to your New Jersey parenting rights. For example, your ability to transport your children as needed may be severely restricted. You may be completely unable to comply with the visitation schedule altogether.

  • Remember that aside from the logistical problems a license suspension creates, the disruption is likely to have an adverse emotional impact on your children as well.

Perhaps most critically, a DUI conviction may successfully be used to establish that you are an unfit parent, especially if you are guilty of more than one drunk driving offense.