New NJ DWI Law Allows Plea Bargaining in DWI Cases
The New DWI Law in 2023 Provides the Opportunity to Negotiate a Plea Bargain for DUI Charges in New Jersey
N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 governs driving under the influence of intoxicating substances (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey. Under the statute, the various penalties apply to those who drink and drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or over or with impairing drugs in their systems. The law thoroughly outlines the penalties for first-time and multiple offenders and various levels of intoxication or drugged driving.
What is the New Law for DWI Plea Negotiations in New Jersey?
Before the recent amendments to the drunk driving law, the courts had little room to alter rigidly fixed DWI penalties, and defendants and their attorneys could not plea bargain for a lesser sentence. However, recent (December 2023) changes to the law allow plea bargaining for reduced sentences in DUI cases. In essence, a previous prohibition on DWI plea negotiations has been fundamentally altered, providing major opportunities for the benefit of defendants. With the passage of this law, if you have a DWI case in New Jersey, you have the right to negotiate a plea bargain.
Can you Plea Bargain a DUI in NJ?
The old answer was no, and the new answer is yes. The new law allows DWI defendants to enter plea bargains with the prosecution, allowing the opportunity to bargain a DWI charge for a better outcome. There is one additional caveat if the case does not involve driving while intoxicated by liquor or alcoholic beverages. If a person’s arrest and charges involves driving while under the influence of narcotics, hallucinogens, or other addictive drugs or allowing someone under the influence of narcotics, hallucinogens, or other addictive drugs to drive a vehicle owned by or in the accused’s custody and control, then, they must forfeit their driving privileges for at least six months and cannot install an IID to avoid fines.
The Old Plea Bargain Rule for Driving under the Influence in NJ
Previously, DWI defendants could not enter plea bargains. The only way to avoid the charges was to obtain a dismissal for various reasons, such as lack of proof that the defendant was impaired, insufficient proof that they operated the vehicle, faulty field sobriety test results, an invalid motor vehicle stop, that the breathalyzer used to obtain a BAC was malfunctioning, or that the police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. Now, a DUI/DWI defendant may enter plea bargains, which are guilty pleas in exchange for reduced sentences. Under New Jersey rules, only represented defendants or those who waived representation may enter plea bargains with the prosecution, and the parties must respect the minimum sentencing requirements required by law in the agreement for a judge to approve the plea agreement. The same principle applies to the newly permitted DUI/DWI plea bargain.
Other Important Amendments under the New Law You Should Know About
You Can Avoid Fines with a Special Ignition Interlock Device Notation on Your Driver’s License
One amendment to the existing law allows anyone arrested for a DWI with a BAC of between .08 and 0.10% to voluntarily install an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) in their principal vehicle and request the DMV to note the restriction on their driver’s license to avoid fines. Previously, an IID and penalties were mandatory for most DWI sentences. Now, anyone with a BAC of over 0.10% can avoid fines if they voluntarily install an IID and note such a restriction on their driver’s license, so long as the accused had a valid driver’s license and was in good standing before the arrest.
You Can Reduce the Period of License Suspension with an IID License Notation
For those registering a BAC of over 0.15% or those arrested for a second DUI or third DWI, the new law allows credits against a license revocation and suspension of fines. The law requires that highly intoxicated drivers (over 0.15% BAC) and multiple offenders lose their licenses for a set time. Under the new law, they get one day’s credit against the total number of days of their license suspension for every two days they voluntarily install and maintain an IID with the notation on their driver’s license that they are not permitted to drive without the IID. The only conditions are that their license was in good standing before the arrest, and no serious bodily injuries arose from the DWI.
So long as drivers present timely proof of their certified installation of an IID with the noted restriction on their driver’s license, they can now avoid hefty fines and even reduce the time period for license suspension. To avoid such penalties, they must supply proof of the installation certification and documents containing the verified charges by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and submit them within seven days of receiving the documents. It is up to the accused to request that the Department of Motor Vehicles notate their license with the IID restriction.
Drunk Drivers with High BAC’s Face Longer Periods of IID Installation
Other notable changes to the drunk driving law are the increase from nine to 12 months in the mandatory installation and maintenance of an IID for a first-time offender with a BAC of over 0.15% and the permission for IID installers without a court order to install the device in a vehicle owned or leased by an accused volunteering to have the device installed.
Some Commercial Vehicle Drivers can Avoid License Suspension
Additionally, commercial license holders registering a BAC of between 0.04% and 0.08% no longer have to get their regular license suspended. Instead, they must install an IID for the length of time of their commercial license suspension.
Important Implications of Plea Bargaining for DWI Defendants in New Jersey
The effect of the changes to N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 may be less crowded municipal courts with DUI/DWI matters that ultimately go to trial. Many offenders forced to fight drunk driving charges to keep their jobs or protect their fragile financial situation can now avoid the time and cost of defending themselves by proactively addressing the problem with an IID and restricted driver’s license. Additionally, giving first-time offenders with low BACs an opportunity to avoid convictions reduces the long-term effects of a DUI on their record, such as lost employment, housing, or educational opportunities. Finally, plea bargaining can also help reduce court congestion and allow offenders to avoid a trial and begin rehabilitating their legal damages sooner.
Hire an Experienced New Jersey DWI Attorney to Negotiate a Plea Bargain in Your Case
Now more than ever, hiring a DWI defense attorney is crucial. The new law allows for plea bargaining, but New Jersey prosecutors bargain only with attorneys or those who waive their right to an attorney. Facing an experienced municipal prosecutor is never recommended for a drunk or drugged driving defendant. You risk jeopardizing your constitutional rights when you are up against an opponent better armed with the law and experience. On the other hand, our drunk driving defense lawyers at The Tormey Law Firm possess the legal knowledge and expertience to challenge a prosecutor but, more importantly, work with a prosecutor to dismiss, plea bargain, or defend against DUI charges.
Contact us at (201)-556-1570 to speak with an experienced New Jersey DUI lawyer following your arrest and find out more about how the newly amended drunk driving law can benefit you. You may be surprised to learn that you have options to avoid conviction or, at least, high fines that can significantly affect your financial and emotional health. Contact our team of attorneys for assistance with your DWI matter and to learn about your options. We provide free consultations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to best serve your needs.