In New Jersey, the legal age for drinking alcohol is 21. Even so, on many occasions state and local police arrest and charge underage drivers with DWI/DUI, while DUI (driving under the influence) is a common abbreviation for drunk driving, state laws officially refer to the charge as DWI (driving while intoxicated).
New Jersey’s “Baby DWI” Law
In practice, the Baby DWI law lessens the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level required to enforce the charge of drunk driving. This means that an underage driver can be arrested and charged with a DWI with much less alcohol in their system than a person who is 21 years of age or older.
If you are 21 or older, a DWI charge may only be imposed if you have a BAC of 0.08 or more. In contrast, if you are underage, a DWI can be charged at a BAC level of only 0.01. Consuming just one alcoholic beverage could potentially result in a 0.01 BAC!
In other words, it’s possible to be suspected, charged, and convicted of a DWI with just one cocktail in your system, if you’re under 21 in New Jersey. Because there are steep penalties associated with a Baby DWI, if you are facing a Baby DWI charge, it may be a good idea to contact an experienced DWI lawyer to vigorously fight for the protection of your legal rights.
3 Possible Adult Penalties for Higher BACs
In addition to a lower BAC than only one drink could trigger, New Jersey law imposes a tiered system for those under 21, with penalties including fines and potential jail time. Each tier has a range of appropriate penalties based on the underage driver’s BAC.
- If you’re under 21 and your BAC is 0.01 to 0.08, you can be fined up to $500. Plus, your driver’s license will be suspended for up to 90 days. You will also be required to take alcohol and driver safety classes, as well as complete community service.
- In instances where an underage driver has a BAC of over 0.08, they can legally be charged as an adult. The penalties can include fines up to $400, a jail sentence of up to 30 days, and suspension of your driver’s license for up to 90 days. You will also face approximately $3,500 in surcharges and other costs from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. And, you will be required to attend an intoxicated driver resource center for 12 hours for an alcohol evaluation.
- If your BAC level is higher than 0.15, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID) on your vehicle. These devices require the driver to complete and pass a Breathalyzer test before starting the vehicle’s engine. If the device detects alcohol, it will prevent your vehicle from starting and record that you attempted to drink and drive.
If you currently have a driver’s license and use it to get to work or school, you need to know that driver’s license suspension is very serious in New Jersey. Some states waive a suspension so that employees can get to their workplaces and students can get to school. In New Jersey, there are absolutely no exemptions to a suspension. A suspension is a suspension. You won’t be able to drive anywhere if it is in force.
The range of penalties for Baby DWI may seem daunting. In fact, they are daunting and intended to be. New Jersey law imposes strict penalties to strongly encourage underage drivers to think before driving after drinking or using illegal substances.
But, it’s not only the penalties that can negatively affect the lives of underage drinkers. Many colleges, employers, and even rental applications require applicants to disclose previous convictions. Having to report a conviction means you may be denied admission to a college you dearly want to attend. It may mean you’ll be turned down for a job—or simply never hear about a possible interview. It may mean you’re turned down for apartments or other rental housing.
What Possible Defenses Do I Have?
To begin, we can evaluate the behavior of law enforcement officers during the traffic stop. Law enforcement officers are required to understand and respect your rights. They must have probable cause to legally pull you over. Probable cause in a DUI case can be satisfied by the officer’s suspicions about certain patterns in your driving, such as veering into another lane or weaving between lanes.
It is important to understand that while suspicious driving patterns may show probable cause, they are not proof of driving impaired. An officer can also have probable cause if they stop you for a routine traffic violation, such as a broken headlight or failure to stop at a stop sign, and during that, see or smell alcoholic beverages or other illegal substances. During a routine stop, officers will check your driver’s license, and if you are underage, they will know it.
If the driver is underage, after smelling alcohol, law enforcement officers can administer several side-of-the-road tests. There are specific standardized field sobriety tests developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When administering these tests, an officer may ask you to perform specific tasks, such as walking in a straight line while counting, as they observe your ability to do so. Failing a field sobriety test can be enough evidence to charge you with a DWI.
Officers may also use a Breathalyzer to perform a chemical test indicating the level of alcohol in your blood. The type of Breathalyzer used in New Jersey is called an Alcotest. The results of a Breathalyzer test can be enough to charge you.
Neither type of test is infallible evidence that you were impaired while driving. Both tests need specific training and experience to administer properly. Inexperienced personnel can take incorrect readings. An Alcotest must be taken within a certain period. The test may provide inaccurate results if the machine is mishandled or improperly calibrated, or if the test is administered by an inexperienced officer.
Finally, certain neurological conditions and prescription medications can interfere with someone’s ability to perform the field sobriety tests correctly.
If you were in a traffic accident, law enforcement officers are required to file a police report. An experienced attorney can carefully examine the police report to see if there are inconsistencies in what actually happened, and how the incident is alleged to have occurred.
Need a Pleasantville DWI Attorney?
Being charged with an underage DWI can be stressful. If you or a loved one has been charged, an experienced Pleasantville DWI attorney can help you understand your options. Remember, the law guarantees your right to an attorney: a trusted advocate can make all the difference in your DWI case.
Call the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC. We have the experience to help you fight your DWI charges. You can reach us by phone at 856-310-9800, or email us using our confidential contact form. We serve people facing criminal charges, including DWIs, in Pleasantville, Haddonfield, and everywhere in South Jersey, including Camden and Camden County.