Plea Bargaining as a Solid Approach to Resolving Your DUI Case in Morris County NJ
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a controversial new driving while intoxicated (DWI) law into effect on December 23, 2023. Previously, the DWI laws were strict and allowed little flexibility in how a driver convicted of DWI or driving under the influence (DUI) could be punished. The new amendments are less strict and, while controversial, provide some benefit to drivers charged with a DWI or DUI, as it enables them to return to work and pay the surcharges and fines associated with the charge, as well as manage their families and day-to-day needs.
Updated Legal Framework for Drunk Driving in New Jersey
Previously, if an individual was charged with a DWI, the higher their blood alcohol content (BAC) was, the longer their license was suspended. A first offense resulted in a three-month license suspension, fines, and attendance at an Intoxicated Drivers Resource Center (IDRC) if the driver’s BAC was 0.08% to .10%. Now, a first offender in the same situation can avoid suspension of their driving privileges by installing an ignition interlock device (IID). Now the law allows first-time offenders to avoid paying any fines, attend an IDRC for 12-48 hours, and voluntarily install an IID before it is ordered by the court. If they do pay a fine, it is between $50-$400, compared to $250-$400 under the old law. First offenses rarely get sentenced with jail time, but 30 days is the maximum. There is also a $3,000 surcharge paid over three years.
Plea Bargains to Downgrade DWI Charges and Penalties in NJ
Previously, before the amendments enacted in December 2023, drivers accused of a DWI or DUI could not plea bargain their cases. Because the charge is about operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, the only way a driver could avoid their charges was to either get a dismissal during pre-trial motions, or go to trial and hope to be found innocent. With the new amendments, individuals can negotiate a plea bargain. By doing so, they agree to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a lesser sentence or being convicted of a lesser charge. In some cases, their plea bargain may reduce the charges from a DWI to a charge such as reckless driving.
This new statutory authority does not allow completely unrestricted plea bargaining. In fact, there are requirements that apply to these plea bargains. The first requirement is that if the individual is convicted of driving while impaired by narcotic, hallucinogenic, or other habit-forming drugs, they are required to forfeit the right to drive for a minimum of six months. Additionally, a plea bargain can only occur if there were no bodily injuries due to the DWI. In other words, a driver must have been pulled over by an officer who observed erratic driving or other signs of DWI. If the driver was involved in an accident, a plea bargain may not be an option.
Key Legal Changes to Note if You Get Arrested for Drinking and Driving in NJ
Other than the new ability to plea bargain the charges and mandatory installation of an IID, there are some other important aspects of the new law that are worth noting.
IID Voluntary Installation and License Notation in New DWI Regulations
Previously, installation of an IID was required in most DWI cases, along with penalties. While this installation is still mandatory, under the new law, drivers charged with a DWI can voluntarily install an IID and request a notation on their driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) indicating such installation. By doing this before any conviction can occur, drivers can avoid fines as long as their driver’s license is valid and in good standing prior to the arrest.
Additionally, drivers whose BAC was 0.15% or higher or who were arrested for a second or third offense are required to have their license suspended for a set period of time, depending on the BAC level and number of previous offenses. The new law allows these drivers to receive credit toward their license suspension if they install the IID and receive the notation from the DMV on their license. For every two days they keep the IID installed and the notation on their license, they can receive one day of credit toward reinstating their license. This can only occur if there are no serious injuries stemming from the DWI charge. The driver must supply proof of the device installation and the verified charges by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission within seven days of receipt in order to avoid the fines and receive credit toward the license suspension.
Extended Interlock Installation Periods
Another change in the law allows IID installers to install the devices in an accused’s vehicle without a court order. Previously, these devices could only be installed if there was a court order. However, the biggest change here is that the installation period has been increased. If a first-time offender has a BAC of 0.15% or higher, he or she is required to install and maintain an interlock device on his or her primary vehicle for a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 15 months.
Expanded Options for Commercial DWI Offenders
In the past, any commercial license holder who was convicted of DWI or DUI would have both their commercial and regular license suspended. Under the new law, if the commercial driver’s BAC is between 0.04% and 0.08%, their commercial license will be suspended. They can retain their regular driver’s license by installing an IID for the length of their commercial license suspension.
Advantages of Negotiating a Plea Agreement for Your DWI in New Jersey
The ability to plea bargain a DWI or DUI charge has several benefits. First, it may reduce congestion in the court system as many defendants who were once forced to fight the charge against them in order to keep a job or protect a delicate financial situation may now be able to negotiate for a better outcome without going to court. They can proactively install an IID and get a restricted driver’s license, avoiding the hefty fines, jail time, and other punishments that could lead to negative long-term impacts of a DWI conviction, including losing their job and certain future employment opportunities, damage to relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, lost educational opportunities, and media attention and a ruined reputation.
The voluntary installation of an IID allowing defendants to avoid lengthy license suspensions and get back to work more quickly means that the fines, penalties, and surcharges that they may be ordered to pay will be paid more quickly and easily. It also helps reduce the burden on their families as they will no longer need to rely on relatives or friends for rides or pay for ride shares. The reduction or elimination of fines in some cases will also make it easier for these drivers to recover from the conviction and perhaps encourage them to avoid subsequent offenses as the sentencing is not as forgiving in subsequent DWI matters.
Contact our Morristown DWI Defense Lawyers for Advice on Plea Deals
There are several ways an attorney at our Morris County law office can assist with a DWI charge. Prosecutors will only plea bargain with defendants who have representation or who have waived that right. Our DWI defense lawyers have more experience and skill with negotiating a plea bargain and may be able to negotiate a better deal for you. If your case does go to trial, our knowledgeable DUI attorneys may be able to examine the evidence against you and present a stronger case to have the charges against you dismissed or persuade a judge or jury that you are innocent.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a DWI in New Jersey, including in Jefferson, Randolph, Dover, Florham Park, Mendham, Denville, Boonton, Netcong, Mount Olive, Dover, and other Morris County municipalities, consider contacting an experienced DWI attorney on our team to discuss how the new laws impact the case and what you can do to get a better outcome. Do not hesitate to call us today at (908)-336-5008 to get a free consultation. Free consultations are available 24/7 to serve your needs best.