When faced with a prospective DWI conviction, many people have one concern. Are they going to be labeled a criminal? The answer might surprise you if you live in New Jersey.
When the police officer slapped the cuffs on Stacy Cunningham, she became worried. Stacy had been out with the girls to a bachelorette party. She only had three drinks at the celebration. Stacy assured her friends that she was okay to drive.
Within ten minutes, the young woman realized she made a mistake. It wasn’t just that she felt tipsy. As Stacy neared the traffic light, a police officer flagged her to the side of the road. Apparently, her car was selected at random for a DWI stop.
The officer smelled alcohol on Stacy’s breath and asked her questions. Ultimately, she submitted to field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer. She failed them both. Stacy was read her rights and placed in the back of the police car.
Fast forward to the court hearing. Stacy hired an experienced DWI attorney who informed her that she could face thirty days behind bars. There were other penalties, but Stacy was most worried that she would be considered a criminal. After all, it was just a couple of drinks with the girls.
Stacy did not get sentenced to jail. Her license was temporarily suspended and she was assessed fines and other monetary penalties. She was also ordered to attend special classes. If someone pulls Stacy’s criminal record, there will be no record of that dreadful evening. Why not?
New Jersey is Unique when It Comes to DWI
The fact is that New Jersey is unique when it comes to DWI. DWI charges are actually traffic offenses. In most cases, they are heard in municipal court. The judge who presides over the matter will be the same one who rules on speeding tickets. The only exception is when an individual is caught driving under the influence and hurts or kills someone.
In some states, DWI is actually considered a felony. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has put together this chart summing up each state’s stance on the issue. (New Jersey doesn’t use the term “felony”. What other states call felonies and misdemeanors are classified as indictable crimes, disorderly person offenses, and petty disorderly persons offenses in New Jersey.) DWI doesn’t fall into any of these categories. It’s not a crime. It’s a traffic offense.
So, if it’s not a crime, does that mean you don’t face jail time? Not necessarily. In fact, here’s what you could be facing behind bars for a DWI conviction:
First Offense Up to 30 days in Jail
Second Offense Up to 90 days in Jail
Third Offense 180 days in Jail
What sets apart New Jersey from many states is the focus on monetary penalties instead of a criminal record. If this interests you, you may want to read this recent article suggesting New Jersey DWI laws aren’t tough enough.
If you’ve been arrested for DWI, you should seek legal advice. The Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo has decades of experience handling DWI cases. Contact our office to see how our representation can help your case.