Is DWI a Felony in New Jersey?

DWI is not a Crime in New Jersey, But is Treated like One

Many people think that DWI is a crime in New Jersey. However, a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 is a violation of the traffic code. I should note parenthetically that New Jersey does not have felonies. We categorize our offenses as indictable offenses and disorderly persons offenses.

Regardless, the distinction between the criminal and traffic code when it comes to a conviction for DWI or DUI in New Jersey is tough to make. This is because the penalties in New Jersey for a first, second, third or subsequent DWI are analogous to those one would face who was convicted for a crime. Case law examining this issue has even called DWI a “quasi-criminal” offense, recognizing that the penalties are arguably more severe than those one would face in the overwhelming majority of criminal proceedings.

The difference is that a conviction for DWI does not appear on your criminal record, only your driver abstract. The distinction here is once again minimal in my opinion because a subsequent offense will expose you to enhanced penalties including jail time and longer loss of license. The enhanced penalties you face are once again worse than one could face as a repeat criminal offender in many instances.

Furthermore, a DWI on your driver’s abstract could have the same effect that a criminal conviction on your rap sheet would. Most employers now request an abstract and could use this as a reason not to hire someone.

In addition, some state licensing boards can use a conviction for DWI as a basis to revoke your license to perform your job.

DWI Charges Can’t be Erased, Removed, or Expunged from Record

Once again, in a criminal case, you could eventually make an expungement application down the road if you qualify. No such relief is afforded to the DWI defendant. In fact, you can never remove a DWI from your record. The only relief you get is this. If ten years has passed since the time of your last offense, you will receive the benefit of the ten-year step down law. In most instances, you can only use that once.

New Jersey DWI Lawyers are not all the Same

Take some time to research your DWI attorneys and you will quickly see that they are not all created equal. The qualification necessary for affective  DWI advocacy are different from an ordinary case.


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