New Jersey Law Regarding DWI and DUI in a School Zone

As we continue to delve into the intricacies of New Jersey DWI law, we must address one of the aggravating factors associated with some of these offenses, the results of which can have a catastrophic impact on the sentence imposed for those convicted. Although a conviction for DWI under any circumstances can be significantly damaging, individuals who are charged and found guilty of DWI in a school zone are exposed to enhanced penalties which may spell even more severe consequences.

Specifically, State law addresses offenses for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol within 1,000 feet of school property under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(g). Notably, a person can be charged with a violation of this statute if he or she operates a motor vehicle within 1,000 feet of school property or drives through a designated school crossing. In fact, even if the school crossing was not designated as such and the State can prove that the defendant knew that children were present, he or she can be convicted of a school zone DWI offense.

Further, the law specifically states that it is not considered a valid defense that the driver was unaware that he or she was within 1,000 feet of school property or driving through a school crossing. It is also irrelevant whether or not juveniles were present at the time of the offense, so a school zone DWI offense that occurs at 2:00 in the morning is indistinguishable from one that may occur at 2:00 in the afternoon.

In order to support a school zone charge, the State must provide one of two forms of evidence:

  • In the case of offenses that occur within 1,000 feet of school property: a map depicting the location and boundaries of the area on or within 1000 feet of the schoolhouse or other school property.
  • In the case of offenses that occur at school crossing: a certified copy of the resolution or ordinance designating the school crossing as such.

Cases involving non-designated school crossings are more nuanced, as the prosecution must provide evidence to support the contention that the defendant drove through a school crossing while under the influence of drugs or alcohol with the knowledge that young people were in the immediate vicinity.

The enhanced penalties associated with school zone violations are reflected in the increased fines, extended periods of driver’s license suspension, community service requirements, and prolonged terms in jail included in the sentencing guidelines for these offenses. Essentially, the penalties for school zone offenses are double those associated with typical DWI’s. These punishments can be understood as follows:

First Offense DWI in a School Zone:

  • Period of license suspension ranging from 1 to 2 years
  • Sentence to serve up to 60 days in jail
  • Fine ranging from $500.00 to $800.00

Second Offense DWI in a School Zone:

  • Period of license suspension of up to 4 years
  • Sentence to serve between 4 and 180 days in jail
  • Mandatory 60 days (or 360 hours) of community service
  • Fine ranging from $1,000.00 to $2,000.00

Third Offense DWI in a School Zone:

  • Mandatory period of license suspension of 20 years
  • Mandatory sentence to serve 180 days in jail
  • Fine of $2,000.00

Clearly, if you have been charged with DWI in a school zone or at a school crossing in New Jersey, it is essential to begin gathering information and formulating your defense strategy as soon as possible. To discuss your case and learn more about the defenses that may be available to you, contact the Law Offices of Edward S. Cooper at (908) 481-4625.