Most of my clients understand that a DWI is a big deal. If somebody didn’t think it was a big deal—I would stress to them that it is. This is for the simple reason that a DWI in New Jersey, by virtue of the fact that it is a traffic offense and not criminal, cannot be expunged. It is always on your record.
It will follow you for the rest of your life. If you get a DWI when you are 21, when you are 91 that charge is still on your driving record.
Penalties for DWIs Escalate for Multiple Offenses
Maybe that first one didn’t seem like it was such a big deal but the penalties increase so dramatically with the second and third offenses. It’s really foolhardy to say well, it’s not a big deal the first time because maybe you’re just looking at a three-month license suspension and you think; I could do that. That’s not big deal.
New Jersey’s 10-Year Step-Down Rule
Interviewer: What if you had first DUI 10, 20, 30 years ago? Is there a length of time after which you get arrested again they’ll consider the charge a first offense again, not a second?
Lauren Scardella: Yes and no. In New Jersey we have what we call a 10-year step-down rule. If there are ten years or more between your first offense and your second offense then your second offense is treated as a first offense for the purposes of sentencing.
A Second Offense 10 or More Years after a First Is Considered a First Offense for Sentencing Purposes Only
A lot of people get confused by that and think it’s a first offense again, and that their first offense has been erased over time, but that’s wrong. It’s not a first offense again. That first offense is still on your driving record but the second offense is treated as a first offense for sentencing. If then, say three years or even nine years after the second offense a third offense occurs? You’re not entitled to that step-down.
That next offense that happens less than 10 years after the 2nd one is a third DWI offense, and it comes with a 180 days in jail and it comes with a ten-year license loss. All of the offenses stay on your record forever but you can be given the benefit of the ten year step-down if there is a gap of ten years or more in between a first and second offense or in between a second and third offense.
Penalties for First and Second Offense DWI in New Jersey
Interviewer: Can you compare the penalties for the first offense versus the second offense?
First Offense DWI Penalties Are Dictated by BAC and May Include Fines, License Suspension and Ignition Interlock Device Requirements
Lauren Scardella: A first offense, if your blood alcohol content is .08 percent or higher but less than .10 percent, a conviction entails a fine of $250 to $400, and twelve hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, as well as a three month loss of license. The judge may but does not have to impose an ignition interlock requirement and there are other costs and assessments that are uniform throughout DWIs.
If the BAC is .10 percent or higher the fine is then $300 to $500, the same twelve hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center and the license loss is 7 months to a year. If the person’s BAC is .15 percent or higher, an ignition interlock is mandatory during the period of suspension and for 6 months to 1 year follow restoration of the defendant’s driving privileges.
The Judge Has the Discretion to Impose a Jail Sentence for a First or Subsequent DWI Conviction: The Penalties Escalate for Second DWI Offense and Include Community Service Requirements
Both of those may include up to thirty days in jail, which can be suspended or not imposed. It is not required that it be imposed.
For a second offense the fine is $500 to $1,000 along with community service for thirty days. There is a two year loss of license and forty-eight hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center in addition to up to 90 days in jail. Again, jail is not mandatory, but the 48-hour stay in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center is an overnight trip.
For a third offense its $1,000 fine, 180 days in jail, 90 of which can be served at an in-patient rehab center, then Intoxicated Driver Resource Center at their discretion. There is a ten year loss of license.
With a High BAC, the Ignition Interlock Installation Is Mandatory
For a second and third offense the ignition interlock is mandatory and it has to be on the person’s car for the period of suspension, plus one to three years.
The penalties add up quickly.