Drunk Driving Laws Just Got Tougher

On January 20th, 2004, Governor McGreevey signed into law amendments to the drunk driving statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. The new law increases the penalties for first time offenders as well as multiple offenders.

Prior to January 20th, 2004, the blood alcohol content (BAC) at which a person is guilty of drunk driving was 0.10%. Under the new law, first time offenders whose BAC is 0.08% or higher, but less that 0.10% will lose their driver’s license for a period of three months. If their BAC is 0.10% or higher, they will lose their drivers license for seven months to one year. The bill also clarified the penalties for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test after being arrested for drunk driving. Under the bill, the persons who refuse to submit to the breathalyzer would lose their license for seven months to one year for a first offense.

Under the previous law, persons operating a motor vehicle with a BAC between 0.08% and 0.10% might never have been charged with a violation of the drunk driving statutes. After January 20th, 2004, operating or allowing another to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC between 0.08% but less than 0.10% exposes the offender to the following penalties for a first offense: A fine between $25.00 and $400.00, 12-48 hours in the Intoxicated Driver’s Resource Center, up to 30 days in jail, three months loss of license and an interlock device being placed on their car for six months to one year.

The new law also changed the penalties for third time offenders. The new law requires that persons convicted of a third or subsequent drunk driving offense be sentenced to not less than a 180 day term of imprisonment in a county jail or workhouse, except the court may reduce the term of imprisonment for each day, up to a total of 90 days, that the person participates in an alcohol inpatient rehabilitation program approved by the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). The new law eliminates community service or work release (SLAP) as sentencing options for persons convicted of a third or subsequent drunk driving offense.

Clearly, the penalties facing people charged with drunk driving and related offenses have increased. The changes in the law will almost certainly increase the number of people who will be charged with violating the drunk driving statute. When you are stopped for a violation of the drunk driving statute you should do two things. First, always take the breathalyzer. The breathalyzer results may be the sole evidence needed to defend against the charge. Second, you should immediately contact an attorney to determine the new penalties you may be facing, and protecting your legal rights.