Other Drug and Alcohol Offenses

Other Alcohol or Drug-Related Offenses

1. DWI With Minors in a Vehicle: N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.15

A person who is charged with a DWI is often charged without a disorderly persons offense as well. A DWI defendant who operates a vehicle while under the influence can also commit a disorderly persons offense if he has a minor in the vehicle the time of the offense. The penalties for this offense are as follows;

a. Loss of Driving Privileges: The Municipal Court judge must suspend the driver’s license for seven months.

b. Community Service: A defendant must perform up to five days of community service.

c. Fines: The municipal court judge may impose a fine up to the amount of $1,000. Moreover, the court costs will be $33.

d. Jail Term: A defendant convicted of this offense also faces a possible jail term of up to six months.

If a defendant is charged with a minors in the vehicle charge in conjunction with a DWI then this case can be an utter disaster for him. The judges often take the position that it is bad enough for a defendant to drive under the influence, but the fact that the operation occurred when minors for whom the defendant was responsible often serves as an aggravating factor. In many cases a DWI defendant is even indicted by the County Prosecutor for a child endangerment charge if he is under the influence, and if child(ren) are in the vehicle.]]

2.  Consumption of an Alcoholic Beverage in a Motor Vehicle: N.J.S.A. 39:4-51(a)

New Jersey law forbids the operation of a motor vehicle by a person who is consuming an alcoholic beverage of any kind. Simply stated, for drivers in New Jersey, any consumption, from any type of alcoholic beverage that occurs during the operation of a motor vehicle will constitute a violation of the statute.

A slightly different stand applies to passengers. A a general rule, passengers in a motor vehicle are also prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages while the vehicle is being operated. However, there are two exceptions to this rule. Passengers in chartered buses or in limousines are permitted to consumer alcoholic beverages while the vehicle is being operated. There are two reasons for these exemptions. First, the drivers of chartered buses and limousines are generally professionals who will not be tempted to join their passengers in driving while operating their respective vehicles. Secondly, the bus and transportation industry plays a vital role in supplying tourists and prospective gamblers to the casinos in Atlantic City. The casino industry has a lot of muscle and this is why passengers can still drink in a chartered bus.

There is a $200 fine for a a first offense for a vioaltion of this cahrge. There is also a $33 court costs. There are no points or surcharges with this vioaltion.

3. Open Containers of Alcohol Beverages in a Motor Vehicle: N.J.S.A. 39:4-51(b)

Open container laws were created to help prevent the consumption of alcohol while driving on New Jersey’s crowded highways. All across the highways of New Jersey alcohol has caused many unfortunate deaths. The primary goal of the open container laws is to reduce the number of alcohol related fatalities. New Jersey law specifically forbids the operation of any vehicle by any person who is consuming alcohol. It is unlawful for any driver to have an open container of beer or alcohol in his car. This violation is commonly called an open container violation.

The opener container law not only prohibits the consumption of alcohol while operating a vehicle, but it also prohibits the simple possession of an opened container of alcohol in the car. The open container law provides as follows;

a. All occupants of a motor vehicle located on a public highway, or the right-of-way of a public highway, shall be prohibited from possessing any open or unsealed alcoholic beverage container.

The mere possession of any manner of an open container beverage by any  occupant is sufficient to constitute an open container violation. An open container charge is commonly filed in the Municipal Courts. Quite often a DWI defendant is also charged with an open container charge.  If there is evidence that you had an open container in your vehicle, then this fact can be very strong evidence to prove your DWI case as well. Even if the driver is perfectly sober, it is still against the law to have open containers of alcohol in the vehicle.

There are five elements that are associated with this motor vehicle violation. They include;

a. Possession;

b. of an alcoholic beverage;

c. in an open or unsealed container;

d. while on a highway;

e. by an occupant of a motor vehicle.

A very important issue in an open container case is  what is considered an opened or unsealed container? An open container is considered a beverage that is easily accessible to drink. Any opened container that is located n the passenger compartment is considered to be an open container under New Jersey law. If the container is in the trunk of the car or located behind the last upright seat in a trunkless vehicle, then this container is not considered an “open container.”  There are some exceptions to the open container law. Open containers are allowed in limousines, buses and taxis.

If you are convicted for an open container violation then there are no provisions for any jail time.  The penalties for having an open container is a $200 fine. If caught a second time, then the fine increases to $250. Moreover, for a second violation the court could also impose community service for ten days. There is no driver’s license suspension for this charge. The penalties for an open container charge are much more lenient than a DWI case. The penalties for an open container charge are a stern warning to the defendant to shape up.

While the penalties for a New Jersey open container charge may not seem harsh after an initial review, the mere presence of such a charge on your New Jersey driver’s abstract will certainly not help you in the future. If you are convicted of an open container charge, then you have have this violation appear on your New Jersey Driver’s Abstract for your entire life. If you have been convicted of any motor vehicle violation then it will appear on your driving history. You can’t escape your past history of driving in New Jersey. Thus, in the future if you receive any traffic violations, a driving while suspended charge, or even “God forbid” a DWI charge, then the prosecutor could very well review your driver’s abstract before he offers you any type of “break” or a plea bargain. Moreover, the Municipal Court judge will also review your driver’s abstract before he imposes any sentence for any motor vehicle violation. For example, if you are charged with your first DWI offense, and if you also have a prior conviction for an open container charge, then a Municipal Court judge will simply come to the conclusion that you simply have not learned your lesson. Thus, instead of imposing a reasonable fine,  and no driver’s license suspension, the judge will impose the max fine, and he could even suspend your driver’s license. Thus, an open container conviction can be used as an aggravating factor in any of your sentences that you may receive in the future in Municipal Court.

4. Operation While in Possession of CDS

As per N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1 it is an offense to operate a motor vehicle if the driver has “knowing” possession of drugs or CDS (Controlled Dangerous Substances).  In many DWI cases it is not uncommon if the police officer also searches the defendant and his vehicle and finds drugs. This is a very serious offense because a conviction requires a two-year driver’s license suspension.

There are five elements that the State must prove to convict a defendant of operating a motor vehicle while in possession of CDS in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1. They include;

a. Operation of a motor vehicle;
b. On a highway;
c. While in knowing possession;
d. Of CDS or prescription legend drugs; and
e. Located on the person of the operator or within the vehicle

The CDS or drugs may be located either on the person of the defendant or anywhere within the vehicle. The farther away the drugs are found from the location of the operator of the vehicle, then the more difficult it becomes to satisfy the “knowing” element of the offense.

A defendant who is convicted of this charge faces high fines. Moreover, the convicted driver must also lose their drivers license for two years. The key in this type of case is that the possession must be “knowing.” This means that the defendant must either knowingly procure or receive the CDS possessed or be aware of his control of the CDS for a period of time sufficient to have been able to terminate possession. See, N.J.S.A. 2C:2-1(c).

In the majority of the cases this charge is almost always charged with a criminal drug offense(s) under Chapter 35 or 36 of the Code of Criminal Justice. In most instances, this charge is merged into one of the criminal offense or dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Moreover, most prosecutors will not object to a conditional dismissal or delay in the prosecution of this traffic offense in contemplation of dismissal if the defendant can successfully complete a diversionary program on the companion criminal drug charges.

In summary, a defendant who is charged with a possession of a CDS in a motor vehicle charge he can face mountains of trouble. The defendant faces approximately two  years of having their driving license suspended, and also heavy fines. Thankfully, in many cases the prosecutor will permit the driver to enter into a PTI program. Thereafter, if the defendant successfully completes the PTI program, then the prosecutor will dismiss the operation while in possession of a CDS charge. However, as part of this deal, the driver will have to plead out to the DWI charge. In most cases, the prosecutor will not split up the case, and permit the driver to enter into PTI for the drug charge, but still have a trial for the DWI charge.

 5. Improper Use of an Ignition Interlock Device: N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.19(b):

Any person who blows into an interlock device to start a vehicle for another person, tampers with or circumvents the operation of an interlock device, or knowingly rents, leases or lends a motor vehicle not equipped with an ignition interlock device to a person ordered to install such a device is guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

If a defendant is convicted then he must pay a fine of up to $1,006. Moreover, a  defendant could also be sentenced for up to six months in the county jail. The Municipal Court judge could also impose a term of probation. The possible terms for probation are from six months to one year. A judge could also suspend the driver’s license of a defendant convicted of an interlock device disorderly persons offense for an additional period of two years.