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NJ DWI FAQ's - Part One

Posted by attorney Theodore Sliwinski

1. If I am convicted of a DWI will I receive any points?

No, if you are convicted for a DWI or a refusal then you will not receive any points from the DMV. However, there are tremendous collateral consequences if you are convicted for a DWI. You will have to pay thousands of dollars of surcharges. For a first time DWI or refusal you have to pay $1,000 of surcharges per year for three years. Moreover, you will be assessed 9 insurance points. The insurance companies now use both DMV points and insurance points to assess whether to give you a policy and what to charge you. In many cases if you are convicted of a DWI, then your insurance company will drop you.

2. If I am convicted for a DWI offense does New Jersey have any temporary or work license programs?

The answer unfortunately in New Jersey is a clear and unequivocal no! Thirty other states have temporary or work license for a defendant if he is convicted for DWI. However, regretfully New Jersey does not provide for any type of application for a defendant to apply for a temporary/restricted or sunset driver’s license. Instead, if a defendant is found guilty of a DWI or a Refusal charge, then he must immediately turn in his diver’s license to the court. If the defendant has an out-of-state driver’s license, then the court has no legal authority to order you to turn in your out-of-state driver’s license. However, the out-of-state driver can no longer legally drive in New Jersey even though his out-of-state license is still valid.

Once you have lost your license in the state of New Jersey you simply can’t drive at all. There are no loopholes or exceptions to this rule. Given the fact that New Jersey is the most crowded state in the United States, if temporary licenses were issued, then sooner or later there would be a disaster and another driver or pedestrian would be killed by the DWI driver with the temporary driver’s license. This disaster would of course be on the cover of the Star Ledger and Asbury Park Press. There has been a significant amount of news about the New Jersey Legislature possibly enacting temporary licences. However, in my professional opinion temporary driver licences will never be enacted in New Jersey. The DWI laws are getting harder each and every year. Therefore, enacting work licenses would go “against the grain" and it would actually lessen the deterrence of the DWI laws. Many people would be less worried about being busted for DWI, because they would figure even if I get convicted I could always get a work driver’s license. So what is the big deal if I am stopped for DWI? This is not the message that the local Police Departments want to project to the public. Thus, restrict work license will never become reality in New Jersey.

3. Why do I have to hire a lawyer. Can’t I just talk to the prosecutor and work out a plea bargain for my DWI case?

Unfortunately, this plan simply won’t work. The Attorney General has issued directives to all of the Municipal Courts and the prosecutors that bans all plea bargaining in DWI cases. Therefore, it is critical for you to hire an experienced DWI lawyer and to raise your best defenses to you DWI case. Your lawyer can explore issues such as a lack of probable cause to stop your car, inaccurate BAC results, errors in the Alcotest process, the failure of the police to observe the defendant for 20 minutes before taking the Alcotest, etc. There are many potential defenses that can be raised. You won’t be able to point out weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case unless you hire a lawyer with a strong background in DWI cases. If you are able to build a decent defense then you may be able to convince the prosecutor to exercise his prosecutorial discretion. Thus, the prosecutor can agree to reduce a tier two DWI to only a tier one DWI. A prosecutor can use his discretion to allow the defendant to plead out to a DWI and to also drop the refusal. If you build a very strong DWI defense then in some rare cases the prosecutor can even use his discretion and even drop the DWI, and permit the defendant to plead out to a reckless driving, with a 90-day license suspension.

In short, on a technical level there is no plea bargaining in a DWI case. However, if you build a strong DWI defense, then the prosecutor can use his prosecutorial discretion and permit the defendant to obtain an alternative disposition. A DWI case can be a complicated game. You simply can’t play it yourself.

4. What are the cues that police officers search for “on the hunt" for drunk drivers ?

The following is a list of symptoms or cues that the police search for when hunting for DWI drivers. The list is based upon research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Administration:

Turning With a Wide Radius

Straddling Center of Lane Marker

Appearing to be Drunk

Almost Striking Object or Vehicle


Driving on Other Than Designated Highway


Speed More Than 10 mph Below Limit

Stopping Without Cause in Traffic Lane

Following Too Closely


Tires on Center or Lane Marker

Braking Erratically

Driving into Opposing or Crossing Traffic

Signaling Inconsistent with Driving Actions

Slow Response to Traffic Signals

Stopping Inappropriately (Other Than in Lane)

Turning Abruptly or Illegally

Accelerating or Decelerating Rapidly

Headlights Off

Speeding is not a symptom of DWI. On the contrary, because of the quicker judgment and reflexes that are required to speed, it can prove that the driver was sober.

5. If I am stopped by a police officer and if he asks me if I have been drinking, how should I respond?

You are not required to answer potentially incriminating questions. A polite “I would like to speak with an attorney before I answer any questions" is an advisable response. On the other hand, saying that you had one or two beers is not incriminating. It is not sufficient to cause intoxication and it may explain the odor of alcohol on the breath.

6. Do I have a right to an attorney when I am stopped by a police officer, and if I am asked to take a field sobriety test(s)?

In New Jersey there is no right to speak to an attorney until after you have submitted to a blood or breath testing at the police station, or if you have refused to do so.

7. What is the police officer looking for during the initial detention of the DWI defendant?

The traditional symptoms of intoxication that are taught at the police academies are:

Flushed face

Red, watery, glassy and/or bloodshot eyes

Odor of alcohol on breath

Slurred speech

Fumbling with wallet trying to get license

Failure to comprehend the officer’s questions

Staggering when exiting vehicle

Swaying/instability on feet

Leaning on car for support

Combative, argumentative, jovial or other “inappropriate" attitude

Soiled, rumpled, disorderly clothing

Stumbling while walking

Disorientation as to time and place

Inability to follow directions

Additional resources provided by the author

New Jersey DWI Center

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