DWI with an Accident NJ
“If you were arrested and charged with DUI and you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, it is even more imperative that you hire an attorney to defend you. This is known as an ‘aggravating factor’ which can lead to enhanced penalties and even criminal charges if someone was injured in the accident.”
What happens if you get in a car accident while drunk in New Jersey?
Driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs is considered dangerous by lawmakers and law enforcers in the state of New Jersey, not only for the driver and passengers in the car but for others on the road. A threshold level of alcohol or other dangerous substances in a driver’s bloodstream is known to impair the judgment and reflexes of a driver, increasing the likelihood of a car accident. While a DWI is a traffic violation handled in the municipal court, drivers involved in an accident while driving drunk or with drugs in their system may be charged with far more than a traffic offense. A DWI alone has severe consequences, resulting in driving restrictions, license suspension, fines, surcharges, and fees. It can be damaging in the immediate and long-term to be found guilty but add an accident to the mix, and you could be tried in the superior court for a fourth, third or second degree crime, especially if someone is severely injured.
How bad is a DWI charge on its own?
If a DWI did not result in an accident, a first-time convicted driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) between 0.08 and 0.10 is fined between $250 and $400 and potentially imprisoned up to 30 days. A BAC is measured by a breathalyzer, a test usually taken after a driver has been stopped by the police for driving erratically or otherwise suspiciously and then usually fails or performs poorly on a field sobriety test, according to the arresting officer. In addition to fines, an Ignition Interlock must be installed in their car to be able to legally drive, they must attend two days at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) and pay a $1,000.00 insurance surcharge per year for three years. An ignition interlock device disables a vehicle if the driver blows a BAC of .08% or higher into the car’s breathalyzer, and an IDRC is an alcohol treatment and testing facility offering education and monitoring.
The higher the BAC, the higher the fines and the length of time an Ignition Interlock device must be maintained in the driver’s main vehicle. Second offenses start at fines between $500.00 and $1,000.00, with up to 90 days in prison, a one to two-year license suspension, 30 days of community service, an Ignition Interlock device for up to two years after the license suspension is ended, 48 hours in an IDRC and the three-year $1,000.00 insurance surcharge payments. The fine goes up to $1,000.00, a prison term for up to six months, license suspension up to eight years, Interlock maintenance for two to four years after the license suspension term is over, a completed IDRC program, and the insurance surcharge to $1,500.00 a year for a third offense. All offenses carry another $425.00 in fees to various funds. Driving with a suspended license due to a DWI, refusing to take a breathalyzer test, driving under the influence with a minor in the vehicle, and underage drivers driving under the influence all have separate fines and sentences on top of the typical DWI penalties.
What charges result from a DWI accident in NJ?
If a DWI or DUI and serious injury accident occurs, the penalties increase substantially. If a driver injured another person in an accident while driving under the influence, the charge is assault by auto (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1c). If charged with an assault by auto, the driver faces a third degree crime, punishable by three to five years in jail and up to a $15,000.00 fine, if driving with a DWI or in violation of a DWI sentence or Refusal laws. The driver may be charged with a second degree crime for driving drunk through a school zone or crossing, causing injury. Second degree crimes are punishable by five to ten years’ imprisonment and up to $150,000.00 in fines. But any time a person drives drunk or while impaired by drugs and is involved in an injury accident, it is a fourth degree crime that may result in a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine. This includes all types of bodily injury, meaning the harm sustained does not need to pass a “serious” injury threshold to be a fourth degree charge at minimum.
DUI and crashed my car but no one was injured, Now what?
If an accident with no injuries occurred, then the DWI remains a traffic violation in Municipal Court, but the judge can take into consideration that there was an accident when deciding a sentence with a range of sentencing options. For example, a judge who is deciding between 0 and 30 days for a first offense DWI, may consider an accident when someone was hurt or property was damaged as an aggravating factor that weighs toward sentencing the higher number of days, unless the driver has an attorney that can persuade the judge to sentence fewer days or dollars. A skillful and well-versed criminal and DWI defense lawyer can be critical to making a case for a minimum sentence by showing mitigating factors and a defendant’s candidacy for drug and alcohol diversion rather than jail time. A highly qualified DUI attorney may be able to help their client avoid conviction all together. A good lawyer can also ensure that a plea in municipal court is not used against a defendant as an admission in a civil lawsuit against them for injury or damages by asking the court to enter a civil reservation.
Does your insurance cover you if you are drunk at the time of a traffic accident?
Civil claims against drunk drivers causing injury or property damage in an accident are not covered by insurance. Vehicle insurers do not cover intentional wrongful acts, like driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. An insurer could claim that your intent to drive a car while knowingly under the influence disqualifies coverage. And while a convicted DWI driver in the municipal or superior court may be ordered to pay restitution as a condition of resolving their case, a civil claim is more expensive. The plaintiff can demand reimbursement for their medical costs, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering or emotional distress. Punitive damages are awarded to a plaintiff when the defendant driver acted especially recklessly.
What if someone else was at fault when I got into a DWI accident in New Jersey?
Other responsible parties to a drunk driving accident lawsuit may be a business owner that served the driver alcohol when the driver was obviously already intoxicated, under New Jersey dram shop laws. Liability also applies to an individual who hosted a social gathering with alcohol served to the driver without regard for the consequences under social host laws. And if the injured party was also driving under the influence of an impairing substance, responsibility for injuries or damage may be apportioned according to fault if the injured party is no more than 51% responsible for the accident, under New Jersey’s comparative fault laws.
How to Fight DUI Car Accident Charges in NJ
Since the prosecution must convince the court beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was impaired or registered over .08% BAC with credible evidence, casting doubt on the test results or police officers’ practices and judgment may be a successful defense or proof that the evidence incorrectly obtained or maintained should be suppressed and never considered when determining their innocence or guilt. A deft DUI attorney can cross-examine witnesses, such as police officers, to reveal weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. They may also be able to show that the accident was not caused by the defendant driver or not the sole cause.
Proving the accident was due to a driver’s negligence or intentional violation of the DWI/DUI laws and that the accident caused the victim’s injuries is essential to apportioning liability to the parties, meaning, who is more at fault for the accident and damages. An experienced DWI defense attorney can help you cast doubt on the facts supporting a criminal, traffic, or civil case against you. Contact The Tormey Law Firm to speak to an attorney knowledgeable in handling DWI accident cases in New Jersey to get help with your case today. You can call (201)-556-1570 or send us a message anytime, day or night, for a free initial consultation.
These videos explain how we will fight against your DWI charges:
Challenge the Initial Motor Vehicle Stoppage
Challenge the Field Sobriety Tests
Challenge the 20 Minute Observation Period
Challenge the Alcotest 7110 machine itself