Is DWI a Criminal Charge in New Jersey?

DWI is a traffic offense, not a criminal charge, in New Jersey.

If convicted of DWI in New Jersey, a person can properly answer that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

DWI is the most serious traffic offense in New Jersey, and the courts have accorded it “quasi-criminal” status, which means that it has most of the constitutional protections associated with a criminal charge, except for a jury trial. There are no jury trials in New Jersey on traffic offenses, or quasi-criminal charges.

Even though jail time must be served on third or greater offenses, and jail can be part of the sentence in a second or even a first offense, an accused motorist does not have the right or ability to have a jury trial for a DWI charge. This is based on a United States Supreme Court case which states that jury trials are not required where the jail term does not exceed six months. Third or greater offense DWI convictions in New Jersey require 180 days in a county jail.