Unfortunately, after a DWI case many times a defendants becomes so broke that bankruptcy is his only option. A DWI defendant must be warned that a DWI conviction often creates many collateral consequences that could ruin his life, or make life more miserable. There are heavy fines and massive surcharges for a DWI conviction. In many DWI cases a person will get fired from his job after getting a DWI conviction. Finally, for some people a DWI conviction may ultimately trigger a divorce or a separation. The cold reality is that a DWI conviction often causes a “chain reaction” that forces a person to file for bankruptcy.
New Jersey is one of the the only states that imposes surcharges. Our surcharge system is the most harsh in the United States. The surcharge system is a unique invention by the Garden State that makes our home state uniquely miserable. There are many positive aspects about living in New Jersey. However, motor vehicle surcharges are not one of them. DWI defendants must also must be warned that a DWI conviction will in most cases triple their auto insurance bill(s). In many instances people just can’t afford to drive again. However, since mass transportation is terrible in New Jersey most people still drive anyway. Many of these defendants are busted once again for the charge of driving while suspended. This violation will create yet even more surcharges. In summary it is not uncommon at all for a repeat DWI defendant to have to pay $10,000 to $15,000 worth of surcharges. Please note that if you do not pay your surcharges, then the MVC will charge you even more interest and penalties. It is a rotten system! The surcharge system is really a form of double punishment. Many Municipal Court judges don’t agree with the surcharge system. However, they can’t change the law, and they have to comply with these laws.
On the bright side, New Jersey does not treat a DWI as a criminal offense. In New Jersey a DWI offense is still only considered to be a motor vehicle charge. In most states a DWI offense is a criminal offense. Therefore, in many other states if you are busted and convicted for a DWI then you will have a criminal record. The State of New Jersey does not give you a criminal record if you are convicted for DWI. However, the Garden State will fine and surcharge you until you are forced to file for bankruptcy.
Fortunately, filing bankruptcy can provide some relief to a DWI defendant. DWI fines are not dischargeable in any type of bankruptcy proceeding. These fines must be paid. If a person does not pay their DWI fines, then a bench warrant will be issued, and he will be picked and arrested by the police. However, surcharges can be partially discharged in bankruptcy. Surcharges can never be discharged in a chapter 7 case. If a person files a chapter 7, then the automatic stay will stop the MVC from their collection efforts to collect the surcharges. This automatic stay protection will only last for about six months, until the bankruptcy is over. Once the bankruptcy is over, then the MVC will start their collection efforts again. Many people are shocked when they realize that their surcharges are not wiped out in the bankruptcy.
On the bright side, most of the surcharges can be wiped out in a chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 13 is a bankruptcy wherein a person has to pay a portion of their debt over three to five years. In most cases, a DWI defendant in a chapter 13 case can pay $50 a month for three years. If the DWI defendant makes all of the bankruptcy payments, then he will receive a discharge. Basically, the DWI defendant can have most of their surcharges wiped off if they make his plan payments. In summary, if a person has “mega” surcharges, then he must file for a chapter 13. A person can’t wipe out surcharges in a chapter 7.