DWI Laws in New Jersey

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Important information on New Jersey DUI Laws.


Introduction. Once, the terms "drunk driving," "driving while intoxicated," "driving while impaired," "DWI," "driving under the influence," and "DUI," were terms with significant legal distinctions with significantly different legal consequences. But today in New Jersey, these terms have come to mean the same thing: a violation of New Jersey Statute 39:4-50. For those charged under N.J.S. 39:4-50 (or under N.J.S. 39:4-50.2 or N.J.S. 39:4-50.4a for breath test refusal), here is some information to help understand what happens, what's at stake, and what to do when faced with a motor vehicle stop or arrest for drunk driving in New Jersey.

Reciprocity. New Jersey belongs to both the Interstate Drivers License Compact, N.J.S. 39:5D-1 to -14, and the Interstate Nonresident Violator Compact, N.J.S. 39:5F-1 to -30.

Generally. Both drunk driving and breath test refusal are handled as traffic offenses in the municipal courts. There is no parallel administrative practice concerning breath test refusal in New Jersey, and there is no driving privilege forfeiture unless and until there is a conviction. Although not a crime in New Jersey, drunk driving and breath test refusal can lead to serious consequences, including:

  • Court imposed assessments of up to $2,378
  • Administrative assessments of up to $5,575
  • Insurance premium increases of several hundred percent
  • Jail for six months
  • Intoxicated Driver Resource Center ["IDRC"] attendance for 48 hours
  • Further education, evaluation, and treatment on the IDRC's recommendation
  • Revocation of driving and vehicle registration privileges for up to 20 years
  • Alcohol ignition interlock in every vehicle you own, lease, or customarily operate or extension of your driving privilege revocation both during the term of driving privilege revocation and for up to three years beginning when the driving privilege revocation ends
  • Forfeiture of motor vehicles registered in your name either individually or jointly with someone else.

Aggravating Factors. Although there is no formal aggravating and mitigating factor analysis, still, there are circumstances that tend to make courts believe that a defendant deserves greater punishment than the court would ordinarily impose:

  • An accident and its victims input
  • High breathalyzer readings (say 0.15 or more, depending on the court)
  • Bad driving record
  • Offenses soon after restoration of driving privileges
  • Poor relations with the police officers involved
  • Unusual or dangerous driving leading to the police stop

Mitigating Factors. While the court can impose no less than minimum penalties required by law, it may consider mitigating factors. These are circumstances which indicate that the defendant deserves less punishment:

  • Low breathalyzer readings
  • Good driving record
  • Good relations with the police officers involved
  • Otherwise careful or nonexistent driving
  • Rehabilitation efforts
  • Adverse affect on employment and family

Mandatory Minimum Sentences. Penalties for drunk driving and breath test refusal are very serious. Although not considered "crimes" in New Jersey, those who are convicted of these offenses are punished more severely than most people convicted of crimes.

The current statutory penalties for drunk driving and breath test refusal, listed with the statutory reference authorizing each penalty, can be found out from the document below: Download current statutory penalties for drunk driving Document


  • Restoration of driving privilege is not automatic and subject to MVC approval. N.J.S. 39:4-50.
  • Merit Rating Plan surcharges are normally $3,000 payable in either three annual installments of $1,000 each or 36 monthly installments of $84 each. But if three events including convictions under N.J.S. 39:4-50 or N.J.S. 39:4-50.4a occur within three years of each other, the Merit Rating Plan surcharges for the third and subsequent events will increase to $4,500 with corresponding increases in the annual and monthly payment schedules.
  • For second offense drunk driving, imprisonment may be commuted to 48 hours attendance at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center ["IDRC"] (96 hours if a "school zone" offense) and inpatient rehabilitation.
  • Where community service is imposed, one day equals six hours to be served at the minimum rate of six hours per week for employed persons and 12 hours per week for unemployed persons.
  • For third or subsequent drunk driving convictions, up to 90 days of the 180-day jail term may be commuted to inpatient rehabilitation and, on application of the treating agency, may be further commuted to outpatient rehabilitation.
  • Most municipal courts treat a prior N.J.S. 39:4-50 conviction as a prior conviction of N.J.S. 39:4-50.4a for sentencing purposes. See State v. Fielding, 290 N.J.Super. 191 (App.Div. 1996), and State v. Tekal, 281 N.J.Super. 502 (App.Div. 1995). Cf. In re Bergwell, 85 N.J. 382 (1981) (interpreting administrative consequences when New Jersey dealt with breath test refusals administratively). But see State v. DiSomma, 262 N.J.Super. 375 (App.Div. 1993).
  • Despite a provision reducing a drunk driving defendant's sentencing status from second to first offender status or third to second offender status after ten years, this hiatus provision applies only when the last drunk driving offense occurred more than ten years before the present offense. Thus, an anomaly can occur where a person with two prior drunk driving convictions was treated as a first offender each time before, but faces third offender penalties, skipping second offender status, because the third offense occurred within ten years of the second. State v. Burroughs, 349 N.J.Super. 225 (App.Div. 2002).

NJ Motor Vehicle Commission home page www.state.nj.us/mvc

To request an abstract of driver history record http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/Licenses/driver_history_page.htm

To pay surcharges to the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/About/restfee.htm

NJ Judiciary home page http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/

For webcasts and archives of NJ Supreme Court oral arguments http://njlegallib.rutgers.edu/supct/

For legal practice forms generally http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/forms.htm

For legal practice forms in the municipal courts http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/mcs/mcsforms.htm

For legal practice forms in Superior Court, Law Division, Criminal Part http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/mcsforms.htm

For pro se practice http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/prose/index.htm

For paying fines on certain traffic offenses http://njcourts.judiciary.state.nj.us/njmcdirect/atswepr2/home.do

For NJ Attorney General home page http://www.state.nj.us/lps

For expert in review and analysis of digital data from Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C in NJ http://www.alcocodenassociates.com


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