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What are New Jersey’s DUI Laws?

September 14, 2021 | Posted In Drunk Driving

New Jersey has some of the harshest DUI laws in the country. Jail time is a possibility for a first-time offense, and repeat offenders can face months in prison, a years-long driver’s license suspension, and thousands of dollars in fines and other monetary penalties. Individuals charged with DUI can face other charges as well, and these charges can add significantly to the immediate and long-term consequences of a drunk driving arrest. With this in mind, if you’ve been arrested for DUI, you need to understand the laws that apply clearly. Here is a brief overview from our New Jersey DUI defense lawyers.

New Jersey’s DUI Law

What is New Jersey’s Law on Driving Under the Influence?

New Jersey’s law on driving under the influence appears in Section 39:4-50 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes. Subsection (a) of the law states:

“[A] person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant's blood . . . shall be subject [to statutory penalties].”

This subsection then goes on to list out the penalties for DUI in New Jersey, with heightened penalties imposed for individuals who have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.10 percent or above or who have prior convictions on their records.

New Jersey’s Law Regarding Minor Passengers

What if You Get a DUI with a Minor Passenger in Your Vehicle?

In addition to having a high BAC or a prior DUI on your record, various other factors can increase the consequences of a DUI arrest in New Jersey. One of these factors is having a minor passenger in your vehicle when you get pulled over. New Jersey’s law on minor passengers, Section 39:4-50.15, applies specifically to parents and guardians:

“A parent or guardian who is convicted of a violation of R.S.39:4-50 and who, at the time of the violation, has a minor as a passenger in the motor vehicle is guilty of a disorderly persons offense.”

In most cases, a DUI charge is a traffic offense. However, Section 39:4-50.15 makes it a criminal offense to drive under the influence with a minor passenger (as a parent or guardian). Individuals charged under Section 39:4-50.15 can face up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, a six-month driver’s license suspension and five days of community service, “[i]n addition to the penalties otherwise prescribed by law.”

New Jersey’s Open Container Law

Is It Illegal to Have an Open Container in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, it is illegal to have an “unsealed alcoholic beverage container” in a motor vehicle operating on public roads. This applies to both drivers and passengers, with an exception for passengers of charter buses, limousines and certain other special vehicles.

New Jersey’s open container law, Section 39:4-51b, provides that a driver or passenger is not considered in possession of an open container if the container is located “in the trunk of a motor vehicle, behind the last upright seat in a trunkless vehicle, or in the living quarters of a motor home or house trailer.” In all other scenarios, having an open container can lead to a $200 fine for a first offense, and a second or subsequent offense can result in a $250 fine or up to 10 days of community service.

New Jersey’s Law on DUI-Involved Vehicle Collisions

What are the Penalties for Causing a Serious or Fatal Accident While Driving Under the Influence in New Jersey?

Causing a serious or fatal accident while driving under the influence can increase the severity of your case substantially. In the case of a non-fatal accident, prosecutors can pursue charges for assault by auto under Section 2C:12-1.c. If the accident results in “bodily injury,” assault by auto involving a DUI is a fourth-degree indictable offense. If the accident results in “serious bodily injury,” assault by auto involving a DUI is normally a third-degree indictable offense; however, it can be elevated to a second-degree indictable offense if the accident occurs in a school crossing, on school property or within 1,000 feet of school property.

In the case of a fatal accident, prosecutors can pursue charges for death by auto under Section 2C:11-5. This is a form of vehicular homicide, and it is a second-degree indictable offense in most cases. Section 2C:11-5 provides that the court must impose a minimum term of imprisonment without parole eligibility, “fixed at, or between, one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed by the court or three years, whichever is greater.” If the accident occurs in a school crossing, on school property or within 1,000 feet of school property, death by auto involving a DUI can be elevated to a first-degree indictable offense.

New Jersey’s Law on Refusing a Breath Test

Is It Illegal to Refuse a Breath Test During a DUI Stop in New Jersey?

Under New Jersey’s “implied consent” law, Section 39:4-50.2, you are required to consent to a breath test during a DUI stop provided that the officer who stopped you “has reasonable grounds to believe that [you have] been operating a motor vehicle in violation of [New Jersey’s DUI law],” and provided that the officer administers the test in accordance with New Jersey’s statutory requirements. That said, drivers who refuse to take the breath test when stopped will face serious consequences that can be pretty significant.

For example, a “DUI refusal” can result in up to a 12-month driver’s license suspension for a first offense plus fees and surcharges totaling more than $2,000. You can also be required to participate in up to 12 hours of mandatory education at an Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC). As with most other DUI-related offenses, the penalties increase for second and subsequent convictions.

Discuss Your Case with a New Jersey DUI Lawyer

If you have been arrested for DUI or any DUI-related offense, it is strongly in your best interests to speak with a lawyer. To discuss your case with a New Jersey DUI lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. as soon as possible, call 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can reach you online now.


Over 20 attorneys at HCK have extensive experience in defending DUI and criminal cases as they were former assistant prosecutors and/or police officers for a combined total of over 600 years of law enforcement experience. You can find out more about them on our site, and you can call Managing Partner Ron Helmer on his cell phone at 609 685-0665.

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