In 2019, The New Jersey legislature enacted new DWI/DUI laws, effective December 1st, 2019, resulting in a sea change relative to driving license suspensions, interlock devices, fines, and penalties.
Under the new laws, all individuals who either plead guilty or are found guilty of a DWI, which is distinguished from driving under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit forming drug (DUI), can now often forego the former mandatory license suspensions, which have been dramatically reduced and apply only under certain circumstances.
Apparently, the New jersey legislature concluded that suspending a person’s driver’s license for a first-offense DUI resulted most often in one’s inability to continue work due to a lack of mobility, which inevitably contributed to many individuals driving while suspended based on the DWI and serving a mandatory period of incarceration. The New Jersey legislature decided in favor of installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) (reformative), as opposed to harsh license suspensions for a first-time offense (punitive), depending on the operator’s B.A.C. (Blood Alcohol Content) reading.
Under the new laws, if a driver’s B.A.C. (Blood Alcohol Content) is between .08-.09%, then in lieu of a license suspension, the individual is required to install an interlock device and only sustain a license suspension until such time as such a device is installed and a restricted interlock license issued by the NJMVC is obtained. In addition, that individual is still subject to mandatory fines and required to attend the IDRC (Intoxicated Drivers Resource Center) for 12-48 hours. On a first offense DWI, the IDRC requirements are generally a minimum of 6 hours a day. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, these courses are conducted on line. There is a separate administrative fee per class for the IDRC plus a restoration fee upon completion payable to the NJMVC, even for out of State drivers. If the B.A.C. reading is .15% or higher, in lieu of forfeiting his/her physical drivers license, an out of State licensee’s New Jersey driving privileges are suspended, along with the order of mandatory installation of an IID . If the out of State driver does not comply with all of the terms of the court ordered sentence, then the NJMVC will report the non-compliance to that individual’s State licensing authority, which will ultimately result in a notice of suspension in that Defendant’s State. Unless there are extraordinary, exacerbating, or aggravating circumstances, an individual who is found guilty or pleads guilty to a first or subsequent offense of refusal, will not be sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
If an individual pleads guilty or is found guilty of a DWI with a B.A.C of .10-.14 %, then the interlock device must be installed for a minimum of 6 months, but there is still no license suspension except until an interlock device is installed in the vehicle and the restrictive license is obtained. However, when an individual’s B.A.C. is .15% or higher, that individual will face a minimum of a 90 day license suspension as well as immediate installation of an interlock device for a period of 9-15 months.
On a third DWI, which is less than 10 years from the prior offense, aside from being fined a substantial amount of money of over $1,000.00, that individual must be incarcerated for a minimum of 180 days in the county jail where he or she resides, or enter an in-patient rehabilitation program, for which New Jersey only applies a maximum 90 day credit towards the 180 day jail term. Also, that individual loses his or her ability to drive for 8 years, and in order to be reinstated must, among other requirements, take a written and physical driver’s road test.
Also, on a second or subsequent DWI in addition to attending the IDRC classes for a minimum of 48 hours in lieu of imprisonment, the Defendant must be evaluated by a licensed alcohol and drug counselor and that individual will be required to attend additional drug and alcohol rehabilitation sessions at his/her own expense. Although this is not explicitly delineated in our State statute, the Intoxicated Drivers Resource Center, which works under the authority of the NJMVC, as a matter of policy, requires these drug evaluations and rehabilitative sessions.
If an individual pleads guilty or is found guilty of driving under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit forming drug, then the penalties remain essentially the same as our prior statute, namely, loss of driving privileges for not less than 7 months nor more than a year, with monetary fines and installment of an ignition interlock device, plus IDRC attendance at the Defendant’s own cost.
If a person refuses to submit to the breathalyzer test, on a first offense, the person who pleads or is found guilty shall be subject only to the installation of an interlock device. Furthermore, that Defendant must have the interlock device installed during and following the period of not less than 9 months, nor more than 15 months from the date sentencing. However, the State will also seek prosecution of the concurrent DWI based on observation which is always issued with the refusal summons.
Importantly, there are individuals who neither own nor lease a motor vehicle. In that case, the individual must attest to that fact, and as a result the individual will be sentenced by the court to revocation of driving privileges in New Jersey for an additional ninety (90) days for a first offense.