New Jersey DWI FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it possible to defend against a DWI?

Absolutely. There are many ways to defend against a DWI charge. If you were arrested, contact a DWI attorney as soon as possible.

Q: What penalties does New Jersey impose for DWI?

Penalties for a conviction will vary in severity depending on whether it’s your first, second or third offense.

First Offense

If your reading was under 0.10%, your New Jersey driving privileges will be suspended for three months.  If your reading was 0.10% and above, you will lose your privileges in New Jersey for seven to twelve months.

If the reading is 0.15% or above, an ignition interlock device must be installed on any car that is driven by the individual for 6 to 12 months.

You will pay fines and surcharges that total more than $6,500:  court fines and assessments starting at $575, a $3,000 surcharge to the State, and usually more than that to your insurance company.  Ignition interlock adds more than $1,000 to your costs to $400.

There is possible jail time of 30 days.  You would have to complete alcohol awareness classes provided through the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) for 12 to 48 hours.

If the violation occurs in a school zone, penalties double.

Second Offenses

Second convictions result in a 2 year loss of New Jersey driving privileges, and carry fines as high as $1,000, and other similar assessments as in first offense convictions.  You must pay for and attend 48 hours of alcohol awareness classes, usually served at a weekend facility.  You must perform 180 hours of community service.  There is a minimum 2 day jail term, with the possibility of up to 90 days.

For second and greater violations, an ignition interlock device must be installed on any car driven by the convicted offender for 1 to 3 years after the license has been restored. Learn more about the interlock system here.

Third Offenses

On a third or greater conviction, the jail term is a mandatory 180 days, without parole.  It is possible to serve up to 90 days in an in-patient rehabilitation facility. New Jersey driving privileges are revoked for 10 years.  Costs and fines are similar to second offenses, but the surcharge to the State goes up to $4,500.  Interlock is required during the period of suspension and one to three years after. Interlock costs are about $1,000 a year for each vehicle you drive in New Jersey.

Q: If I’m asked to submit to a breath test, can I refuse?

You can, but you’ll be charged with a violation for doing so.

According to New Jersey statute, you do not have the right to refuse a breath test without possible penalty. In New Jersey, the operation of a motor vehicle on any public or semi-public road, street, highway, or other area carries an “implied consent” that you will submit to testing. Note that this consent only exists when there is first a reason to believe that the alcohol in your blood is in excess of the legal limit.

Q: If I refused the breath test, are there defenses to that charge?

Yes, there are, depending on the facts of your case, For example, if there is no odor of alcohol and no indications of an alcohol based intoxication, there is no “reasonable suspicion” to believe that you are under the influence of alcohol, and the officer should not have put you on the breath testing machine.  Technically, that circumstance should result in a dismissal of the refusal charge. If you were charged with refusal, please contact us office to discuss your case, and we will analyze your best course of action going forward.

Q: Are the penalties the same for Refusal to submit to a breath test and DWI?

The penalties are similar, but there are important differences.

A first offense will result in a 7 to 12 month suspension of driving privileges, and will result in a fine of $250 to $500, An ignition interlock device must be installed for 6 to 12 months following the restoration of driving privileges.

Second and third offenses increase the suspension of driving privileges to two years and 10 years, respectively. Note that a prior conviction on a similar charge in another jurisdiction will count as a prior offense when determining penalties in New Jersey. An ignition interlock must be installed on second and third offenders’ vehicles for a period of 1 to 3 years following license restoration.

Refusal convictions do not enhance subsequent DWI convictions.

Q: What happens if I’m convicted of both charges, Refusal and DWI?

First offense cases charging a DWI and Refusal result in 3 month suspension of New Jersey Driving privileges for the DWI and 7 – 12 month suspension on the Refusal.  On first offenses only, the sentences can run concurrent or at the same time, for a total suspension of 7 months

On second and greater offenses, sentences must run consecutive, i.e. one after the other. Second offense DWI carries a 2 year suspension and Refusal also requires a 2 year suspension upon conviction.  If convicted of both, license suspension is a total of 4 years.  For a third or greater offense, there are suspension of 10 years each on a DWI and Refusal, for a total term of 20 years if convicted on both.

Q: What are the penalties if I’m found guilty within 1,000 feet of school property or a school crossing zone?

If you’re convicted of DWI and you are within 1,000 feet of a school, your penalties will double.

For a first offense, there is a loss of New Jersey driving privileges for a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years, and up to 60 days in jail.  There is also a fine of $500 to $800, additional court assessments of $325 to $400, a state surcharge of $3,000, and your insurance company will surcharge you at least $3,000 to well over $10,000 depending on your specific circumstances.

To be charged as a second or greater offender in a school zone, the prior conviction(s) had to have been in school zones, otherwise, sentencing would not occur under the school zone section of the statute.  Non-school zone sentencing would apply.

Second offenses in a school zone carry a mandatory jail sentence of 96 hours to as much as 180 days, as well as mandatory community service for 60 days.

A third or greater offense results in a loss of New Jersey driving privileges for 20 years, and carries a minimum mandatory jail sentence of 180 days, 90 of which can be served in an IDRC approved rehab facility. There is no parole on the 6 month jail sentence.  Court fines and assessments can be as much as $2,400.

Stating that you were unaware that you were within 1,000 feet of school property or a school crossing, or that it was late at night and there were no juveniles present at the time cannot be used as a defense for a school zone charge.

You can find more information on receiving a DWI in a school zone here.

Q: What additional penalties, if any, would I incur if I am convicted of both refusal to take the breath test and of DWI within 1,000 feet of school property?

If found guilty of both charges, fine amounts would increase by $500 to a total of $1,000, the amount of time that you will be without legal driving privileges increases by one year for the first offense, an additional four years for the second offense and as much as 20 years for the third offense.

Q: What happens if my driver’s license was already suspended or revoked when I was stopped for DWI?

If convicted, you will have an additional fine of $500, an additional one to two years without driving privileges, and a jail sentence of 10 days minimum with over 90 days possible.

If you are suspended due to a second or greater conviction for DWI, you are facing a “felony-level” charge and a criminal record.  This charge is prosecuted at the county level, and carries a 6 month mandatory jail sentence, no parole.  In addition, if you are now charged as an alleged third offender for DWI, if you are convicted of the DWI, the jail term runs consecutive, but can run concurrent.

Q: What about having a suspended or revoked license and being stopped for DWI or refusal within close proximity of school property?

If convicted, you will be fined for an additional $500, lose driving privileges for one to two more years, and face a jail sentence of 60 to 90 days for the first conviction, 120 to 150 days for the second, and 180 days for the third or subsequent offense.

Q: If my driver’s license was issued in a state other than New Jersey, will I lose my license in my home state as well?

Loss of driving privileges in your home state is not automatic. Most states issue separate suspensions if you are convicted in a state other than where you are licensed.  Click here for more information.

For answers specific to Pennsylvania, click here.

Q: After the suspended driving privileges period has passed, is my license automatically reinstated?

No. A fee of $200, paid to the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), is required to restore your New Jersey privileges,

Even if you are an out of state driver, you must pay $200 to MVC to reinstate your privileges in New Jersey, otherwise you will remain suspended in New Jersey forever, and that will eventually catch up to you, when your home state will not renew your privileges where you live because your name is on the National Driver Register (NDR) as still being suspended in New Jersey

Q: If sentenced to jail time, do I have any choices other than spending time in jail?

For first and second offenses, if you are sentenced to jail, you may have other options, specific to your situation.

For third or greater offenses, you must go to jail for 180 days, however 90 of those days may be served in an in-patient drug or alcohol rehabilitation facility.

Q: If I have prior DWI convictions, can I have them overturned or nullified so that they do not affect a current arrest?

Yes, it’s possible to have prior convictions not considered in a current case. This is called Post Conviction Relief.

You would have to go back to the original court and seek to have the case reopened, or argue that the conviction cannot be used to put you in jail in any current or future matter. Learn more here.

Call us as soon as possible so that possible alternatives can be considered.

Q: If I have a DWI or DUI conviction in a different state, is it considered a prior offense for the sake of my current situation?

Yes, but it has to be a conviction for DWI.  In other words, if you had the benefit of a diversionary program like ARD. or PBJ and were not actually convicted of the offense, that would not be considered a conviction, and that arrest cannot be counted as a prior offense.

Q: If my license was already suspended or revoked after a DWI conviction, when does the additional suspension time begin?

Any loss of driving privileges prescribed as part of the current conviction will start after the original suspension or revocation period ends. Suspension is consecutive.

Q: Does a prior DWI conviction from more than 10 years ago count as a previous offense?

If they are your first and second offenses, DWI convictions that occur more than 10 years apart will be treated as unrelated when sentencing for the second. In this case, a second conviction will be sentenced as a first offense.

However, a third conviction that occurs more than 10 years after the second will be sentenced as a second offense rather than another first.

Q: Can the IDRC require me to undergo additional counseling or classes?

You are required to comply with the screening, evaluation, referral programs and payment of fees for:

  1. the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Intoxicated Driving Program Unit
  2. the IDRC
  3. a program of alcohol and drug education and highway safety

If you do not meet minimum requirements in any of these areas, you can be required to take additional counseling or classes involving additional fees.

Q: What if I choose not to comply with IDRC classes or counseling recommendations?

You will be subject to a mandatory two-day jail sentence to be spent in the county jail and a loss of driving privileges until you comply with the requirements.

Q: What is the DWI law with regard to being under 21 years old?

In addition to any penalties imposed under the usual DWI or other criminal laws, a blood alcohol concentration of between .01 percent to .08 percent will result in the loss of your rights to operate a motor vehicle in New Jersey or to get a license to drive in New Jersey for 30 to 90 days, starting on either the eligibility date for obtaining a license or the conviction date, whichever is later.

You will also be sentenced to community service for 15 to 30 days and will need to satisfy the IDRC fee and program requirements.

Find more information on our Underage DWI page.