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Stages of a DWI / DUI

Elizabeth, NJ DWI / DUI

Being charged with a DUI/DWI can be overwhelming. You may have many concerns regarding the strenuous process ahead. Will my license be suspended? How will I get to and from my job? What if I already have a suspended license? Will I go to jail? How much money will this cost me? It is important to have an experienced attorney by your side to guide you through this difficult time and represent your interests zealously so that you may receive the lightest punishment possible under the circumstances of your case. While this page is in no way a replacement to the valuable role an attorney can play in your DUI/DWI case, it may provide answers to your immediate questions through a step-by-step overview of DUI/DWI stages, the penalties and fines involved, and common FAQs following a DUI/DWI arrest.

Union County Driving Under The Influence Lawyer

Anthony N. Palumbo from the Union County, New Jersey law firm of The Law Offices of Anthony N. Palumbo is a criminal defense attorney with more than 35 years of criminal trial experience. If you need help because you have been charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI/DWI), contact me for a free initial consultation. Our firm defends individuals accused of offenses in Elizabeth, Linden, Clark, Rahway, Roselle, Garwood and throughout New Jersey.

Step-by-Step Overview Of DWI / DUI Stages

Summons and Complaint

  • First, the police officer will sign the summons and complaint. This is the ticket that says what you are charged with (i.e. DUI/DWI or DUI/DWI and possession of marijuana). It also says the date you have to be in court. If you have an attorney, he may choose to move this date so that full discovery can be made before you go to court. Discovery is where the attorney collects all of the information about the arrest (i.e. whether the police officer had probable cause to pull you over in the first place). If your attorney can find a violation of your constitutional rights (i.e. lack of probable cause is a violation of your 4 th Amendment), the case against you may be thrown out. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important to have an attorney.


  • Second is the arraignment. This is when you go to court and the judge calls out the charges listed on the summons and complaint. Then you will respond with “guilty” or “not guilty”. If you plan to plead “not guilty” it is important to do it through an attorney. In order to raise certain constitutional protections at trial, you must inform the court of your plan to use them during the arraignment, or you may lose the ability to use them at trial. This is one of the many reasons it is very important to have an attorney. An attorney will know which defenses apply to your case and will make sure to preserve your constitutional rights.

Pre-Trial Discovery

  • Third is Pre-trial Discovery. This is when your attorney gets to review all police documents and those documents belonging to other state agencies. The documents will have detailed accounts of your arrest. It is during this time that your attorney will determine if your rights have been violated. For example, in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S 436 (1966), the U.S. Supreme Court held that police must advise you of your right to an attorney before they ask you questions that are likely to draw out a response which makes you look guilty. If the police fail to do this, your responses will not be allowed as evidence against you at trial. It is important to have an attorney with these issues because there are several complicated tests involved in determining whether your rights were violated. An experienced attorney will be able to identify whether your circumstances meet these tests.

Pre-Trial Motions

  • Fourth is Pre-trial Motions. This is when the attorney asks the court to do certain things based on the discovery documents he received from the police. If the police or prosecutor failed to turn over any one of the documents, the attorney can ask the court to make them turn in over. Or, if the attorney finds from the documents that your constitutional rights were violated, he may ask that certain statements you made that make you look guilty not be allowed in court. For example, in State v. Woodruff, 403 N.J. Super 620 (2008), the police officer had proper cause to pull over the defendant’s vehicle because he swerved into another lane twice. Therefore, the attorney’s motion to suppress incriminating statements was denied.


  • Fifth is Trial. A single Judge will preside over your trial. The prosecutor will present the evidence against you, and may call witnesses to prove their evidence. It is important to have an attorney who is trained in courtroom demeanor so that he can properly cross examine the state’s witnesses, and present witnesses on your behalf if possible. The judge will listen to all the evidence against you, decide whether you are guilty or innocent, and sentence you. If you are unhappy with the conviction, you have 20 days to appeal the court’s decision to a higher court. Your attorney will be able to advise you as to whether an appeal is the right course of action.

Penalties and Fines

1 st Time Offense:

Penalties for a first time offense depend on your Blood Alcohol Content (“BAC”) and whether you were using drugs in addition to alcohol.

If your BAC was between .08 and .09 and no drugs were involved, you can expect:

  • A fine of $250-$400
  • Detainment 12 to 48 hours
  • Jail up to 30 days
  • 3 month license suspension

If your BAC was .10 or higher OR you were using drugs, you can expect:

  • A fine of $300-$500
  • Detainment 12 to 48 hours
  • Jail up to 30 days
  • License suspension between 7 months and 1 year

When the time period for your suspended license is complete, the court may order the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle. This is a breathalyzer device that is connected to the ignition. In order to turn the car on, you must breathe into the device. Once the device determines that you have not been drinking, the car will turn on. During the time the device is required in your car, you are not allowed to drive any other car but your own. For a first time offense, the device will be installed for a period of 6 months to one year.

2 nd Time Offense:

  • A fine of $500-$1000 and community service
  • Jail for at least 48 hours, up to 90 days
  • 2 year license suspension
  • Ignition Interlock Device 1-3 years (installed upon completion of suspension)

3 rd Time Offense:

  • A fine of $1,000
  • Jail for 180 days (approximately 6 months)
  • 10 year license suspension
  • Installation of breathalyzer in car; requires your breath to turn on engine
  • Ignition Interlock Device 1-3 years (installed upon completion of suspension)

Common FAQs

What happens if I refuse the breathalyzer? Will it be better for my case?

  • Under New Jersey law, you consented to the breathalyzer by simply driving on the road and do not have the right to refuse it. However, in State v. Ravutto, 169 N.J. 227 (2001), the NJ court held that police cannot force you to physically take the test against your will. If you refuse, the police will simply advise you of the penalty for refusing. For a first offense, you will be fined $600 to $1,000 for a refusal and your license will be suspended for 1-3 years. For a second offense, you will be fined $1,000 to $2,000 and your license will be suspended for 4 years. For a third offense, you will be fined $2,000 and your license will be suspended for 20 years if you are too close to a school.

I had an open container in my vehicle, but I was not under the influence. What will my penalty be?

  • You will be charged $200 for a first offense, for a second offense you will receive a $250 fine OR 10 days of community service.

I was pulled over near a school and charged with a DUI/DWI. Will my penalty be worse?

  • Yes, the penalty is worse if you are charged with Driving Under the Influence in a school zone or on school property. For a first offense, you will be fined $500 to $800, receive jail time of up to 60 days, and your license will be suspended for 1-2 years. For a second offense, you will be fined $1,000-$2,000, compelled to perform community service for up to 60 days, receive jail time for at least 4 days, and a license suspension for four years. For a third offense, you will be fined $2,000, receive jail time of 6 months (which may be lowered if you go to a rehabilitation center instead), and license suspension for 20 years.

I was arrested, but I am underage. What will happen to me?

  • If you are not of legal age to buy alcohol, you do not have a driver’s license, and your BAC is between .01 and .08 when you are charged, your license will be suspended for 30-90 days beginning on the day you would be eligible to obtain a license or the day of your conviction, whichever is later in time. You must also perform community service for 15-30 days, and attend and pay fees for either Intoxicated Driver Resource Center or an alcohol education program.

When I was charged with a DUI/DWI, I had a minor/ juvenile in the vehicle. Will there be additional penalties?

  • Yes, in addition to the other penalties, your license will be suspended for up to 6 months and you must perform community service for up to 5 days.

Still have questions? Contact me for a free initial consultation and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. Discussing the options of your case with an experienced attorney should put you at ease.

In some cases, I can even have your criminal charge downgraded to a municipal charge. I have obtained hundreds of downgraded charges which reduce the impact of a brush with the law on your future. Call now to see if your charge warrants a downgrade.

Always remember that hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney has great advantages in court. If you want a competent and aggressive attorney who will zealously represent your interests then contact Anthony N. Palumbo today.