I represented a client charged with DWI, Underage DWI, and various traffic violations in a Union County Municipality. The case persisted for several months. The facts of the case were not great for the defendant, as there was an accident involved.
My client was under twenty-one years of age. Accordingly he was charged with both NJSA 39:4-50 (DWI) and Underage DWI (NJSA 39:4-50.14). The law allows prosecution and punishment for both offenses. The difference being however, that Underage DWI only means that the defendant was under 21 yrs of age, had consumed alcohol, and driven his car. Being under the influence is not an element of the offense.
Nonetheless, when a defendant blows over the legal limit (.08 BAC) he will be facing the adult version of the offense and all the penalties that go along with it. This means surcharges, heavy fines, prior conviction which will serve to enhance subsequent DWI convictions, possible jail time, up to year loss of license (first offense), insurance consequences, etc.
Underage DWI penalties include loss of license up to 90 days, community service, and counseling. I argued successfully during this most recent case (as I have in the past) the this offense does not include any monetary sanctions (no money fines) and does not count as a DWI conviction for enhancement purposes.There are also no surcharges. ($3000)
The difference between the DWI and Underage DWI is enormous.
My client was over the legal limit. After a thorough review of the discovery, it became apparent that there may be a 20 minute observation argument. Prior to trial, I discussed this issue with the arresting/testing officer and municipal prosecutor at length. Eventually, it was decided by the State that the readings from the Alcotest would not be admitted into evidence.
Secondly, I had to convince the prosecutor that he would not be able to prove the DWI (adult) strictly upon the observations (field sobriety test). This was a difficult task given that fact that the defendant had admitted to drinking and was involved in an accident during the early morning hours. However, I prevailed.
The State agreed to dismiss the 39:4-50 (DWI), in exchange for a plea to the underage offense. By doing so, the defendant saved thousands upon thousands of dollars, does not have a DWI on his record, and does not face enhanced penalties in the future if arrested again. He also avoided a significantly longer period of suspension. The difference is huge.