The Basics of New Jersey Drunk Driving Laws
New Jersey drunk driving laws are similar to DUI laws in other states. Penalties range from fines to jail time, and there are increased penalties for drivers whose blood-alcohol content far exceeds the legal limit.
New Jersey Drunk Driving Defined
It used to be, under New Jersey drunk driving laws, that to be arrested for DUI, also known as DWI, you had to have a blood-alcohol content of .10 percent. However, New Jersey has lowered that threshold to .08 percent to fall in line with the rest of the country.
In fact, now if you are caught driving with a blood-alcohol content of .10 percent or higher in New Jersey, your DUI penalties can be increased.
Even if you do not have a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent or more, you can still be arrested for violating New Jersey drunk driving laws. The law states that anyone who operates a vehicle under the influence of alcohol is guilty of breaking New Jersey DUI laws.
This means that if your driving or behavior appears to be compromised due to alcohol, you can be arrested for drunk driving in New Jersey.
Observing Driving & Behavior
Regardless of your blood-alcohol level, a New Jersey police officer will likely pull you over if he or she observes suspicious driving behavior. This behavior does not have to be illegal. For example, a police officer may pull you over after you commit a traffic violation, such as speeding. But he or she may also pull you over if you hesitate before passing through a green light, particularly if the office suspects you hesitated because you were intoxicated.
Behavior that might cause a police officer to pull a vehicle over includes:
- Driving too slowly
- Improper use of headlights
- Weaving from side to side
- Driving in more than one lane at once
Once you have pulled over, the police officer will observe your behavior to deduce whether you have been drinking. The office may attempt to smell alcohol on your breath or may look at your eyes to see if they are red.
Field Sobriety & Breathalyzer Tests
After observing your behavior, if the officer is still suspicious, he or she will probably ask you to submit to some field sobriety tests. These tests may include the following challenges:
- Walking in a straight line with the heel of one foot touching the toe of the other, turning, and repeating
- Watching a moving object with your eyes while keeping your head still
- Keeping your arms to the side while standing on one foot
If you fail these tests, the officer may place you under arrest for driving while intoxicated. The office may also ask you to submit to a breathalyzer test. When blown into, a breathalyzer can gauge how much alcohol you have had to drink and whether you are over the legal limit.
If the breathalyzer test determines you are above the legal limit, you will be charged with a per se violation of New Jersey DWI laws. A per se DUI simply means that your blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit.
Refusing a Breathalyzer Test
In New Jersey, it is a serious offense to refuse a breathalyzer test and can potentially have severe consequences.
The first time you refuse a breathalyzer test, you may face the following penalties:
- Driver's license suspension ranging from seven months to one year
- A fine of $300 to $500
- The installation of an ignition interlock device for six months to a year
New Jersey Drunk Driving Trials
New Jersey drunk driving trials have some unique qualities that set them apart from other states as well as other crimes in New Jersey.
First, drinking and driving in New Jersey is not a misdemeanor or a felony. It is a traffic violation.
Second, you do not have the right to a jury trial in a New Jersey DWI case. Instead, your trial will be presided over and decided by a judge.
Finally, unlike with other crimes, you and your New Jersey DUI lawyer will not be able to attempt to plea bargain with the prosecution. A plea bargain is when you admit to the crime or to a lesser crime in exchange for a lighter sentence.