Do you have to lose your license under the new NJ DUI law?
Recent changes to New Jersey’s DWI laws have eliminated driver’s license suspensions for many first offense drunk-driving convictions.
New Jersey has also reduced the driver’s license suspension period for second, third and subsequent convictions.
The new law, and update to NJSA 39:4-50, which took effect on December 1, 2019, and expires on January 1, 2024, dramatically changes the way New Jersey treats DWI convictions.
While controversial in that critics argue the law reduces the deterrent effect of a prospective DUI, the law has the support of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (“MADD”), the state legislature, and was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy without significant opposition. Many legal observers and attorneys were surprised by this development, but the trend now is to enforce drunk driving mostly by the installation of ignition interlock devices instead of driver’s license suspensions.
New DUI Penalties
If you are convicted of a first-offense DUI under NJSA 39:4-50 and your blood alcohol content (“BAC”) is .08 to .10%, you only be subject to a driver’s license suspension until you prove that you have installed an ignition interlock device on the vehicle that you principally operate, own, or lease.
The interlock must remain installed on your car for three (3) months. There still exists the $250 to $400 fine and the $1,000 a year MVC surcharge for three (3) years. You still must attend and complete the intoxicated driver’s resource center (“IDRC”) for twelve (12) hours served on two (2) consecutive days.
For a first-offense NJ DWI conviction with a BAC of .10% or above, the fine is increased from the above to $300 to $500 and the interlock period to seven (7) to twelve (12) months. For a first-offense DUI conviction with a BAC of .15% or above, there will still be a mandatory license suspension of four (4) to six (6) months and still install the ignition interlock device. Indeed, interlock installation is now mandatory for all NJ driving while impaired or DWI convictions.
You can still be sentenced to 30 days in jail for any first offense DWI conviction regardless of your BAC. The new law does not change the penalties for an NJ DUI conviction from drugs. A drug-based DUI conviction still carries a seven (7) to twelve (12) month driver’s license suspension. This applies to both prescribed drugs such as Xanax and painkillers and non-prescribed drugs such as heroin or even marijuana.
The new NJ law reduces the driver’s license suspension for second-offense DUI convictions from two (2) years, to now one (1) to two (2) years. The fine remains $500 to $1,000 and the mandatory two (2) to ninety (90) day jail sentence still applies.
In some cases, it may be possible to serve the jail sentence for a second-offense DWI conviction in the IDRC rather than county jail. The mandatory thirty (30) day term of community service and 48 hour IDRC also still applies, along with the MVC monetary surcharge.
Third or Subsequent Offense
The penalties for a third, fourth, or even tenth DUI conviction are the same as before. These penalties apply to anyone convicted of a third or subsequent DWI and include a mandatory fine of $1,000; six (6 months) mandatory jail, and a now “reduced” term of license suspension of eight (8) years, down from what was previously ten (10) years.
Not more than half of this sentence may be served in an NJ IDRC approved inpatient rehabilitation facility. This option is only available if made a part of your negotiated or judge determined sentence.
Changes to NJ Refusal to Submit to Breath Testing Penalties under NJSA 39:4-50.2 and NJSA 39:4-50.4
The new DUI law also eliminates the driver’s license suspension for a first-offense conviction of refusing to provide breath samples. Instead, like a first-offense DUI conviction with a BAC under .15%, the new law provides for mandatory installation of the interlock device in lieu of a driver’s license suspension.
For a second-offense DUI conviction, the penalties are the same as for a second-offense DUI under the new laws, expect that the jail and community service do not apply. The fines imposed for a first-offense refusal conviction are $300 to $500 (first offense), $500 to $1,000 (second-offense) and $1,000 (third or subsequent offense).
School-Zone DUI penalties under the new NJ DUI laws
The new DUI law eliminates the enhanced penalties, and in fact the entire law against specifically driving while under influence of drugs or alcohol in a school zone under the old NJSA 39:50(g), which was repealed.
The reasons behind this are unclear, but it is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of “school-zone” DUI charges occurred after school hours when schools were not in session and no children were present.
The practical effect of the old school-zone DWI law in most cases merely enhanced the legal exposure of an individual accused of driving under the influence in urban, rather than suburban or rural areas.
NJ Interlock installation, costs, and maintenance
Interlock sales and installation are now big business thanks to the new DUI laws, which makes the installation of such devices now mandatory for all NJ DUI convictions. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (“MVC”) overseas the interlock program within the state.
The interlock is a device that is installed into the vehicle’s ignition system that prevents the operator of the vehicle from starting the car until they blow into a tube connected to the device to establish that their BAC is under .05%. It is a criminal, disorderly persons offense to blow into another individual’s interlock device in order to allow them to operate the vehicle.
The person convicted of the DUI is responsible for the costs of installing, maintaining, and calibrating the interlock device. The device can cost around $200 to install and must be “leased” from the interlock company. The monthly cost can run up to $100 a month to lease. Every two months, the device must be calibrated for an additional cost.