Whether or not you go to jail if you plead guilty to, or are found guilty of, drunk driving in New Jersey, depends mostly on whether this is your first offense. As with many other laws in the Garden State, the punishments get more severe the more often you violate them, so the punishments you face for a third offense are harsher than those for a first.

First Offense: No Jail Time in Most Cases

Although the statute states that you can be incarcerated for up to 30 days, there is a presumption against jail time, and it is usually not sentenced absent other aggravating circumstances. However, it is completely up to the discretion of the judge, so there is no guarantee that you will stay out of jail.

Second Offense: Jail Time, But  . . . 

New Jersey law sets forth a provision for mandatory jail time of 2 to 90 days. The 2-day minimum may not be suspended or served on probation, but it doesn't have to be in the county jail. The time can be served either in an in-patient rehabilitation program or in the Intoxicated Driver's Resource Center (IDRC). Fortunately, in most cases where the judge orders incarceration, it is in the IDRC.

But the jail term can be longer than 2 days! The judge could sentence you to more! He or she will consider things like:

  1. The nature and circumstances of your conduct at the time, including whether your conduct posed a high risk of danger to the public or caused physical harm or property damage;
  2. Your driving record;
  3. Whether you had not had any infractions for a substantial period before the DUI;
  4. Does your driving record indicate that there is a substantial risk that you will commit another violation;
  5. Does your character and attitude indicate that you are likely or unlikely to commit another violation;
  6. Was your conduct the result of circumstances unlikely to recur;
  7. Would a license suspension or fine cause excessive hardship to you or your dependents;
  8. Is a longer jail term warranted as a deterrence;
  9. Other relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

Third (or Subsequent) Offense: Jail Time!

You will definitely go to jail for a third or subsequent offense. The statute states it to be for 180 days, and absent compelling reasons, you will start to serve that jail time immediately upon the pronouncement of sentence!

The only way to reduce this is to ask that up to 90 days can be served in an approved residential alcohol treatment facility. This is at the discretion of the judge, and many of them require you to serve at least 90 days in jail first before proceeding to the treatment center.

Best to Get a Lawyer for Your DUI

Serving time in jail is possible, and progressively more likely, with a drunk driving charge in New Jersey. For this reason at the very least, you need to hire an experienced attorney to represent you. You do not want to go it alone.

If you have been charged with drunk driving in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem or Cumberland County, please feel free to call me at 856-432-4113 or contact me through this site to schedule a free consultation. If you are looking for more information on New Jersey's drunk driving law, then download my free book, How Much Trouble Am I In? A Guide to New Jersey Drunk Driving Law.

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Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.