The Difference Between DUI and DWI Charges in New Jersey

It’s the choices we make that make a difference in our future. Should you ask for a promotion or stay in your current position? Is a home in the suburbs preferable to a chic apartment in the city? Can you handle a few drinks at the party or should you take a pass? For that last question, you may find yourself wondering about the difference between DUI and DWI charges and how the distinction might affect your answer.

There are many aspects of life that we have power over and others that are beyond our control. The only parts you can influence are your own decisions but no matter what you chose, there will be consequences. For example, deciding to get behind the wheel of an automobile after drinking alcohol or using any kind of drugs might lead to either DUI or DWI charges. Which option you take and how you handle the outcome can mean the difference between a guaranteed peace of mind and an uncertain future. Choose carefully.

Is there a difference between a DUI and a DWI charges in New Jersey?

DUI stands for driving under the influence. This means you are operating a motor vehicle with alcohol or other intoxicant in your system and it is affecting your driving behavior.  It is an illegal offense.

If you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, NJ categorizes that as a DUI. In New Jersey, those under 21 years old cannot be higher than 0.0.01 percent and for truck drivers it’s 0.04 percent. The word influence describes alcohol, prescription or over the counter medications and illegal drugs.

DWI stands for driving while impaired. In New Jersey, there is no difference and both terms are used interchangeably. Sentencing, penalties and prosecution are the same for each.

What are the penalties you will face?

A DUI or DWI can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The difference often centers on whether there was injury or property damage. If you have prior charges within the past three years, this can also instigate a different charge.

Your first DUI offense is always a misdemeanor in every state and the District of Columbia. Misdemeanors are a category for less serious crimes and usually punishable by a fine, probation or some jail time. Other penalties might include community service, a requirement for alcohol education classes and suspension of your license.

Punishment may also be dictated by your level of intoxication and how many prior offenses you have. For example, with a BAC of 0.15 percent and more than one offense on your record, you could be required to have an Ignition Interlock Device installed in your vehicle. These devices require you to blow into a breathalyzer before your car will start.

Certain aggravating circumstances may cause an escalation of charges, such as having a child in the car with you, causing bodily injury or death to someone or if you are a repeat offender. Courts may charge you with a felony if you have had three or more prior arrests in a 10 year period or are driving with a suspended license.

If charged with felony DWI or DUI, you can face a minimum of a year in prison (not jail) and the magnitude of having a felony on your record. This can lead to loss of voting rights and forfeiture of your ability to legally own a firearm.

Additionally, police can add other charges to a DWI arrest. This includes reckless driving, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test and possession of drug paraphernalia.

What you should do if faced with DUI or DWI charges?

Being pulled over by police under suspicion of DUI or DWI can easily frighten anyone. Your mind begins to race and you worry about the potential repercussions. If arrested, you will likely receive a citation to appear in court at a later date. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Remaining silent is a right. You are under no obligation to tell the officer where you are coming from or going. Law requires you to identify yourself and produce any paperwork requested, like your registration or proof of insurance. The officer may also ask if or what you have been drinking but you don’t have to answer that. They want you to admit driving under the influence so they don’t have to prove it later. For instance, if you are coming from a bar or nightclub, the police officer might make a snap judgment based on that fact so you might not want to admit it but you don’t want to lie either.

It’s important to note that you must avoid being belligerent or mean and it’s illegal to refuse an order. Be polite and respectful. Just calmly respond that you’d rather not say or that you are exercising your right to remain silent.

New Jersey is one of the states with an “implied consent” law. This means that you must submit to a field sobriety test, called a breathalyzer, which is a way to prove, on the spot, that you are drinking and driving. Remember: even without a breathalyzer test, you can still be found guilty of DUI. If you refuse this test you should understand that could be reasonable cause for the officer to arrest you. Then, you will have to give a blood sample. Refusing this can result in losing your license for up to a year and fines of $300 or more.  You may then need to hire a DWI attorney

More Information

If you want more information on DWI charges, check out Bronsnick Law’s New Jersey DWI facts.

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