New DWI Penalties Effective December 1, 2019

On December 1, 2019, new penalties for drunk driving go into effect in New Jersey. This new law changes many of the license suspension and the ignition interlock device penalties. Most importantly, a first-time offender faces a different length of license suspension upon a conviction or guilty plea than under the previous law if he or she installs the ignition interlock device in his or her car. The court can suspend a defendant’s driving privileges until the defendant installs the interlock device. Then, the defendant will be able to drive while the device in installed in his or her car for the required length of time.

Be aware that the direct and collateral penalties for drunk driving are still considered serious. In addition to facing a license suspension and interlock requirement, defendants still face monetary fines, Motor Vehicle Commission surcharges, higher insurance rates, mandatory Intoxicated Driver Resource Center attendance, and even jail. Furthermore, depending on the nature of your employment or immigration status, you could face loss of employment or potential immigration issues due to a conviction or guilty plea to DWI.

Also, it should be noted that the interlock device is costly. When a driver is required to install this device, most interlock companies charge for the installation, periodic maintenance, and removal of the device. While these companies may differ slightly in price or billing structure, I estimate that these devices cost drivers around $1,000 and up throughout the term of their required penalty periods.

Even under the old law, people made the mistake of assuming their DWI cases were not worth fighting. That was not true then and it is still not the case. There are many defenses to DWI cases that a specialized DWI defense attorney may be able to find in your case. Given the serious consequences in and out of court for a DWI conviction or guilty plea, it is highly recommended to speak with a DWI attorney such as myself about your case.

For first time offenders, the penalties are based on your reported breath alcohol limit. One defense that may be available to defendants would be to dispute the breath test machine or procedures. That may enable some defendants to reduce or eliminate some of the penalties that they are facing.

The new penalties are as follows:

39:4-50. (a) A person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant’s blood or permits another person who is under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug to operate a motor vehicle the person owns or which is in the person’s custody or control or permits another to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant’s blood shall be subject:

(1)   For the first offense:

(i)   if the person’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or higher but less than 0.10%, or the person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or the person permits another person who is under the influence of intoxicating liquor to operate a motor vehicle owned by him or in his custody or control or permits another person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher but less than 0.10% to operate a motor vehicle, to a fine of not less than $250 nor more than $400 and a period of detainment of not less than 12 hours nor more than 48 hours spent during two consecutive days of not less than six hours each day and served as prescribed by the program requirements of the Intoxicated Driver Resource Centers established under subsection (f) of this section and, in the discretion of the court, a term of imprisonment of not more than 30 days. In addition, the court shall order the person to forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State until the person installs an ignition interlock device in one motor vehicle the person owns, leases, or principally operates, whichever the person most often operates, for the purpose of complying with the provisions of P.L.1999, c.417 (C.39:4-50.16 et al.);

(ii)   if the person’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.10% or higher, or the person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or the person permits another person who is under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug to operate a motor vehicle owned by him or in his custody or control, or permits another person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10% or more to operate a motor vehicle, to a fine of not less than $300 nor more than $500 and a period of detainment of not less than 12 hours nor more than 48 hours spent during two consecutive days of not less than six hours each day and served as prescribed by the program requirements of the Intoxicated Driver Resource Centers established under subsection (f) of this section and, in the discretion of the court, a term of imprisonment of not more than 30 days;

in the case of a person who is convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug or permitting another person who is under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug to operate a motor vehicle owned by the person or under the person’s custody or control, the person shall forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of not less than seven months nor more than one year;

in the case of a person whose blood alcohol concentration is 0.10% or higher but less than 0.15%, the person shall forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State until the person installs an ignition interlock device in one motor vehicle the person owns, leases, or principally operates, whichever the person most often operates, for the purpose of complying with the provisions of P.L.1999, c.417 (C.39:4-50.16 et al.);

in the case of a person whose blood alcohol concentration is 0.15% or higher, the person shall forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of not less than four months or more than six months following installation of an ignition interlock device in one motor vehicle the person owns, leases, or principally operates, whichever the person most often operates, for the purpose of complying with the provisions of P.L.1999, c.417 (C.39:4-50.16 et al.);

(iii) (Deleted by amendment, P.L.2019, c.248)

(2)   For a second violation, a person shall be subject to a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000, and shall be ordered by the court to perform community service for a period of 30 days, which shall be of such form and on terms the court shall deem appropriate under the circumstances, and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than 48 consecutive hours, which shall not be suspended or served on probation, or more than 90 days, and shall forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of not less than one year or more than two years upon conviction.

After the expiration of the license forfeiture period, the person may make application to the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission for a license to operate a motor vehicle, which application may be granted at the discretion of the chief administrator, consistent with subsection (b) of this section.  For a second violation, a person also shall be required to install an ignition interlock device under the provisions of P.L.1999, c.417 (C.39:4-50.16 et al.).

(3)   For a third or subsequent violation, a person shall be subject to a fine of $1,000, and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than 180 days in a county jail or workhouse, except that the court may lower such term for each day, not exceeding 90 days, served participating in a drug or alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program approved by the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center and shall thereafter forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for eight years.