What It Means to Be Charged With DWI in NJ Since the New Law Took Effect


Woodbridge Driving while Intoxicated Defense Lawyers

Governor Murphy, along with legislators in New Jersey, recognized that the former DUI laws imposing lengthy license suspensions upon conviction, without exception for work etcetera, left people with little means to pay off fines or to continue to work and support their families. In accordance with such realizations, in August of 2019, the state of New Jersey enacted a new law which changed the penalties for DWI offenses, finding that lengthy suspensions have no deterrent effect on eradicating drunk driving. The NJ State legislature changed the existing DWI law, lessening the length of the suspensions for first time DUI offenders and allowing individuals to continue to drive with mandatory ignition interlock devices installed on their vehicles. The implementation of this new law also changes the way courts handle those who refuse to submit to breath tests, commit subsequent offenses, and drive while intoxicated in a school zone.

These changes became effective on January 1, 2020. Now, individuals convicted of a DUI offense for the first time are required to install an interlock ignition device on their vehicle, for most, in lieu of suspension or until the interlock has been installed. For some, particularly first offenders with higher than 0.15% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), as well as second, third, and subsequent offenders, the interlock must be installed in addition to a period of suspension, and for months or even years beyond the length of the license suspension.

Prior DUI Consequences under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50

In the past, interlock ignition devices were only required in cases involving high levels of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)  or for repeat offenders.  Additionally, the former law did not allow violators to drive during the period of driver’s license suspension.  These lengthy suspensions often made it impossible for people to get to work, support their families, and pay off fines.

The former law as applied to first time DUI offenders with a BAC between 0.08% and 0.10% required the court to suspend a person’s license for 3 months and gave the court the option to impose a jail sentence for as much as 30 days.  Under the new law, the court is not required to suspend your license, but can instead order you to install the interlock ignition device for three months. You are not permitted to drive, nor does the time frame begin to run, until the interlock is installed.

Moreover, under the old law, the higher your BAC, the lengthier the license suspension. For example, if your BAC was greater than .10% or you were driving intoxicated due to drugs, your license would be suspended for a minimum of 7 months. Additionally, the interlock could be ordered to be installed after the term of your suspension. Now, the court will order the installation of the interlock during the period of “suspension.”  So, if your blood alcohol concentration is at least .10 but less than .15, the interlock must be installed on your car for 7 to 12 months.

New Sentencing for DWI in New Jersey

The new DUI law under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50,  allows for installation of the interlock device instead of lengthy suspensions without any right to drive, when a person is found guilty of their first driving while intoxicated offense. Specifically, the amendment calls for the following sentences for first offenders convicted of DWI for alcohol:

  • Blood alcohol concentration of least 0.08% but less than 0.10%: 3 month installation of an interlock ignition device on any motor vehicle “owned, leased, or principally operated by the offender, whichever the offender most often operates”
  • Blood alcohol concentration of 0.10% but less than 0.15%: 7 to 12-month installation of the interlock ignition device on any vehicle owned/operated by the offender as noted in the paragraph above.
  • Blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or higher: 4 to 6-month license suspension followed by 9-15 months interlock device.

If you have been convicted for refusing to submit to a breath test as a first-time offender, the court will also suspend your license until you install an interlock device.

Overall, the new law requiring inclusion of interlock ignition devices during the term of suspension positively impacts first time offenders. However, not everyone charged with a DUI will receive the same punishment. Offenders with one prior conviction and those charged with the offense due to drug use are not treated the same as first time offenders. Subsequent or repeat DUI offenders are not afforded the same courtesy and still face substantial license suspensions during which they cannot operate a motor vehicle in this State. Second offense DWI is now punishable by a license suspension of between 1 and 2 years, while a third DUI is punishable by an 8-year suspension of driving privileges. Additionally, the new law requires repeat offenders to install devices during the period of suspension and keep them installed  in their cars for two to four years after the term of suspension has expired.

The law also changed with regard to DUI offenses in a school zone.  In the past, the law allowed for enhanced punishment for those driving while intoxicated in a school zone. With the amended law, the legislature did away with this provision.

What about Driving on Drugs?

If you have been convicted of a DUI involving substances other than alcohol, you will not be given the option of having an interlock device instead of suspension. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)(ii), if you have been found guilty of DUI for using a habit producing drug, narcotic, or hallucinogen, your license will be suspended for 7-12 months.  You will not have the right to have an interlock ignition device installed instead of a suspension because there would be no way to monitor driving while under the influence of a controlled substance. Essentially, the interlock can only test for alcohol, not drugs.

What the Interlock Means for those Convicted of DUI with Alcohol in NJ

The interlock is a device that is placed in your car and requires you to blow into it before you operation can occur.  The device can detect any alcohol use and the car will not start if any is detected.  Also, many people have reported that actively blowing into the device during longer trips is required, as it provides assurance to the state that no alcohol is consumed during the period in which you are driving.  You must install the interlock on any car that you use regularly.  Failure to do so or to operate a car without an interlock is a violation.

Local Edison DWI Defense Lawyers Fighting Your Charges

If you are facing a first DUI, refusal, or you have been charged as a repeat DWI offender, our experienced NJ DWI defense attorneys can help.  We have represented countless people facing DUI charges in New Brunswick, Edison, South Brunswick, Woodbridge, East Brunswick, Piscataway, and surrounding towns in Middlesex County, and we have the experience to fight for you. Contact our local office in Edison today at (732) 659-9600 to discuss your case. Consultations are free and a member of our team is available 24/7 to assist you.

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.