Is a DWI a Criminal Offense in New Jersey?

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What Kind of Offense Is a Dui in NJ?

Thanks to PSAs, radio ads, television spots, billboards, and other announcements, most people are aware that driving while intoxicated is against the law throughout the United States, including in New Jersey. But what type of crime is a DWI? New Jersey has an idiosyncratic system for classifying both criminal and non-criminal offenses, which often makes identifying the distinctions between these different types of offenses challenging for people facing DWI charges. This article examines how New Jersey law classifies DUI and what it means when you are the one arrested and or convicted of a DWI offense. If you or a loved one has a DWI case, our skilled defense lawyers provide top defenses for DUI charges throughout the Middlesex County, NJ area. Call us today at (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation about your case or set up an appointment at our local office in Edison.

“New Jersey Considers a DWI as a Traffic Offense, Not a Criminal Offense.”

In New Jersey, various state and local laws are divided into a number of different categories. The most serious crimes are called “indictable offenses,” similar to felonies in other states, which include crimes like murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and the like. Relatively lesser severe crimes are classified as “disorderly persons offenses” and petty disorderly persons offenses, which are comparable to misdemeanors outside New Jersey. And finally, there are non-criminal offenses or quasi-criminal offenses, which can include municipal ordinance offenses and traffic violations. New Jersey law categorizes a DWI as a traffic offense or quasi-criminal offense, rather than a criminal offense.

Does a DUI Show up on Criminal Background Check?

A DWI conviction in New Jersey will not be reflected on your criminal record, so a criminal-only background check will not reveal it. It is important to note, though, that a background check that covers your driving record may well identify your DWI conviction.

Although drunk driving is not cause for a criminal conviction, you should not view a DWI conviction as minor or inconsequential. New Jersey police officers are permitted to arrest you for driving under the influence, which means you will be taken to a police station or jail for booking and processing, after which you will normally be told the date of your court appearance and released before your upcoming court date.

DWI’s have another added downside, beyond an unpleasant trip to the station. They cannot be expunged from your driving record, and your convictions may serve as a prior offense that enhances penalties for a subsequent DWI conviction for as long as ten years after the date of your first conviction. DWI convictions can also carry heavy fines and potential jail time, discussed further below.

Can I go to Jail for a DWI Charge in NJ?

Yes. DWI charges can expose you to a jail sentence, and some types carry mandatory jail time for those convicted. Penalties for even a first time DWI conviction in New Jersey can be steep, with judges retaining the discretion to sentence you to as many as 90 days in county jail and to impose several hundred dollars in fines, fees, and other penalties. Although possible, a first-time DWI conviction likely will not result in jail time unless you engaged in particularly egregious conduct, like driving drunk near a school or drove under the influence with a child in your vehicle. Second time DWI may result in some jail time, again up to 90 days maximum, along with increased fines and other penalties, but a judge is not required to impose a jail sentence. For a third and all subsequent DWI conviction, however, judges are required to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in jail on top of all other penalties.

Given these serious potential penalties, in your DWI proceedings you are entitled to virtually the full range of constitutional rights afforded to criminal defendants, the main exception being that you are not entitled to a jury trial as DWI defendant. In New Jersey, judges preside over DWI proceedings in municipal court.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a DWI Case in Middlesex County?

With the potential for mandatory jail and the severity of the consequences associated with DWI charges, you should contact a lawyer with experience defending clients charged with DUI if you are arrested for drunk or drugged driving. Get help with your DWI charge in Woodbridge, New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Piscataway, Carteret, or elsewhere in Middlesex County. Contact us at (732) 659-9600 for a free DUI defense lawyer consultation.

William Proetta

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.