Will a Prior Out-of-state DWI Conviction Enhance a Subsequent DWI in New Jersey?

Clients often inquire as to whether or not any previous out-of-state DWI convictions or other alcohol-related traffic violations will effect their New Jersey DWI matter.  A previous out-of-state alcohol-related traffic offense can indeed affect the penalties that will be imposed in your current New Jersey DWI case.  This is because the DWI penalties in New Jersey increase with each subsequent DWI conviction.  Due to the Interstate Driver’s License Compact (IDLC) a New Jersey court can count an out-of-state conviction as a prior conviction for sentencing purposes if the statute under which they were convicted of having violated is considered to be of a “substantially similar nature” to a DWI in New Jersey.  N.J.S.A. 39:5D-4(2)(c).
States use different terms for alcohol-related traffic violations.  For example, in Pennsylvania they use the term Driving Under the Influence (or DUI), while in New York they use the terms Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI).  In State v. Zeikel, the New Jersey Appellate Division concluded that a defendant’s conviction in New York for Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI) were substantially similar in nature to a New Jersey DWI conviction so as to count as prior DWI convictions for sentencing purposes.  Thus, the court there sentenced the defendant as a third-time offender.

The short answer to whether or not your out-of-state conviction will be treated as prior DWI for sentencing purpose, however, will depend on your level of intoxication in your prior DWI.  In general, if you were convicted of a DWI in another state and your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was over 0.10% for the offense, it will count as a prior DWI for sentencing purposes.  It is, however, important to verify whether or not the prior DWI conviction violated New Jersey’s law at the time, which will depend on what your BAC was at the time of the prior offense.  In 2004, New Jersey changed its DWI law when the legal limit was lowered from 0.10% BAC to 0.08% BAC.  For example, if you were convicted of DWI prior to New Jersey lowering its legal limit to 0.08%, your DWI would be counted as a prior DWI for sentencing purposes only if your blood alcohol level at the time was 0.10% or higher.  If, however, you were convicted of DWI after New Jersey lowered the legal limit to 0.08%, your DWI will be counted as a prior DWI if your blood alcohol level at the time was 0.08% or higher.

If you are facing a DWI in New Jersey and you have any prior alcohol-related convictions in another state, you should have an experienced DWI attorney examine your situation to determine whether the prior convictions should count for sentencing purposes.  Randolph H. Wolf has been representing DWI defendants in New Jersey for over 30 years.  For a free consultation, contact Randolph Wolf today at (732) 741-4448.