New Case on License Suspension – Certain Offenses Considered Fourth Degree Crime

DUI stop with cop holding breathalyzer

As every driver should know, it is illegal to drive drunk in New Jersey. The specific law that prohibits driving while intoxicated is N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. In New Jersey, you are also required to submit to a breathalyzer test if you are pulled over and the police officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe that you have been driving drunk. Violating the breathalyzer requirement law is known as Refusal to Take a Breath Test – or just refusal – and it is detailed in N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2.

If you are convicted under either of these laws, you can be sentenced to several penalties including severe fines, jail time, and loss of driving privileges. When your license is revoked, you are completely prohibited from driving: you cannot drive to work, you cannot drive to school, you cannot drive to the store, you cannot even drive to get medical treatment or attend doctor’s appointments — New Jersey does not allow for any temporary, provisional or “work” licenses.

Under the recent case of State v. Dougherty, which was passed by the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division earlier this month, the Court made it clear that a driver commits a crime of the 4th degree if he or she operates a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension for a second or subsequent violation of the previously mentioned laws. Until this case, it was not clear whether both former violations had to be of the same law – both DWIs or both refusals – or whether they could be different. Dougherty confirms that both former violations do not need to be the same, which could mean even greater penalties for anyone found driving with a suspended license.

State v. Dougherty

In Dougherty, the defendant was arrested and charged with driving with a suspended license. At the time he was pulled over, he had one prior conviction for DUI and one prior conviction for refusal, and his license was still suspended as a result of the refusal.

Based on this, he was convicted of driving with a restricted license under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26(b), “Operating motor vehicle during period of license suspension,” which makes it a crime of the fourth degree to operate a motor vehicle with a suspended license when the suspension was the result of a second or subsequent conviction for driving while intoxicated or refusal. This is important, because driving with a restricted license based on a first offense is not considered as serious a crime (but will still result in jail time). Since this was the defendant’s second period of license suspension, the law stated that the court was required to impose a mandatory sentence of 180 days and the defendant would not be eligible for parole. This sentence is required and cannot be lessened or bargained against.

A fourth-degree crime is also considered a serious crime under the law – as compared to a traffic offense, misdemeanor, or disorderly persons crime – and will be listed on a person’s permanent record as a violation of a major crime. This could more seriously affect the driver’s future ability to gain employment or apply for certain positions based on the person’s criminal history.

Taken all together, driving on a restricted license as the result of a second DWI/DUI conviction and/or a second refusal conviction could elevate the violation from a quasi-criminal proceeding to a full 4th degree criminal proceeding, including indictment, heightened penalties, and increased jail time. For that reason, if you or anyone you know has been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunk driving or refusal, it is important to contact a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. A good lawyer will be able to review your case as well as your history and present any applicable defense on your behalf including appealing past convictions.

New Jersey Refusal Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Is Prepared to Defend Against the Serious Charges You’re Facing

A conviction for refusal or drunk driving can mean serious penalties – jail time, heavy fines, and loss of license at a minimum. Driving with a suspended license can mean even more consequences. If you or someone you know is charged with driving under the influence or refusal, it is important to have a lawyer who knows how to help. A good attorney can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 1-732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.