How The Coronavirus Lockdown Has Changed DWI Arrests In New Jersey  

DWI Attorneys Providing Counsel to Clients in Linden, Rahway, Clark, Roselle, and Union County.

Before the Coronavirus, DWI arrests in New Jersey were already on the decline. Experts say that increased penalties and awareness campaigns had begun to get the ball rolling.  With bars and restaurants closed, Lockdowns meant that people were not going out to drink and driving home. This is a mere supposition, a hypothesis, if you will.  Until all of the statistics for 2020 can be scrutinized, a clear answer has yet to be determined.

How has the Number of DWI’s Changed?

During the pandemic in 2020, drunk driving fatalities declined 34%, and among those under 21, the number of fatalities has decreased 66%. Underage drinking among the nation’s youth has continued to decline, with fewer reporting drinking. Drunk driving fatalities of drivers under the age of 21 between 1982 and 2020 have declined 88%.  Surveys reveal that more casual discussion between teens and their parents has lent itself to teenagers waiting much late to begin drinking alcohol or even drinking it at all.  New Jersey is the 25th state in the ranking of DWI-related deaths with 125.  The state of Texas has the most, with 1,049.

What Kinds of Penalties Are There For a DWI Conviction?

A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can result in a range of penalties, including driver’s license suspension, a fine, use of an ignition interlock device (IID), and possibly even jail time. Under New Jersey law, DWI is classified as a motor vehicle offense rather than a criminal offense. This means that municipal courts hear DWI cases, and the maximum penalties for a conviction are less than they would be in many criminal cases. This is not to say, however, that a DWI conviction is not a very serious matter. Since municipal courts hear most cases involving motor vehicle offenses, a defendant charged with DWI might face charges of other motor vehicle offenses as well. Prosecutors might, in some cases, be willing to dismiss the DWI charge in exchange for a guilty plea to a different offense. This is not always an option, but it can be a way to avoid the more onerous penalties that might come with a New Jersey DWI conviction.

Unlike many other motor vehicle offenses in New Jersey, the DWI penalties increase based on the number of prior convictions an individual has during the ten years before the current alleged offense. With relatively low blood alcohol content, a first DWI conviction results in a fine of $250 to $400, possible jail time of up to thirty days, and suspension of one’s driver’s license until they install an IID in their vehicle. A third or subsequent conviction within ten years results in a mandatory jail sentence of 180 days, an eight-year license suspension, and a $1,000 fine.

Many DWI cases originate with a traffic stop by police. An officer must have reasonable suspicion of a motor vehicle or criminal offense to stop someone. This could include allegedly running a stop sign or a red light or driving erratically. In such cases, the state might charge a defendant not only with DWI but also with whatever alleged motor vehicle offense or offenses prompted the traffic stop in the first place. In most cases, the potential penalties for other motor vehicle offenses are not as severe as they are for DWI.

In cases where a police officer alleges that a defendant was weaving in traffic or otherwise driving erratically, prosecutors could charge the defendant with reckless driving, careless driving, or driving in an unsafe manner. All three involve driving in a way that is “likely to endanger a person or property.”

Many defendants convicted of DWI must report to an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) to undergo an assessment and participate in services, such as educational programs about drug and alcohol addiction. Failure to attend as required results in jail time. The court must include detailed information about the IDRC and the defendant’s obligations in its judgment. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently remanded a DWI case to a lower court, finding that the court failed to include IDRC information as required by the DWI statute.

What Kinds of Penalties Are There For a DWI Conviction?The penalties for a DWI conviction depend on two main factors:
1. The number of prior convictions in the past ten years; and
2. In the case of a first offense, or first in the past decade, the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at or near the time of their arrest.

The goal of New Jersey municipal prosecutors is to keep intoxicated drivers off the streets.  If this can be accomplished by applying fines and obligating drivers to go to classes, it is much more favorable than jail time or a suspended license.  If your license is suspended, getting to work can be a problem.  If one cannot work, paying fines is impossible.  There is some wiggle room with a first conviction.  Beyond that, the penalties are much more severe.

Contact our defense Lawyers for a Free Consultation at our Linden Office.

If you have been arrested for DWI, we can provide you with the help you need to navigate the complex legal process.  We will accompany you every step of the way.

At Edward S. Cooper, Esq,  we successfully represent clients Linden, Rahway, Clark, Roselle, and throughout Union County. Whether you have suffered a personal injury or have been accused of injuring someone, do not let your injuries or an accusation of criminal wrongdoing change your life.

Contact our Linden office by calling (908) 481-4625 today for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your individual needs and concerns.