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DUI: New Jersey’s 10 Year Step Down Rule

DWI Car Keys
In the state of New Jersey, you can be issued a DUI if you are caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you are under the influence of either of those two substances, you cannot drive or operate a car, bus, truck, boat or any other motor vehicle. This is against NJ law. If you are charged with a DUI, or “driving under the influence” you are facing a serious motor vehicle offense.

Can DUI Sentencing Be Reduced?

Before 2008, in the state of NJ a DUI sentence could not be reduced. Also, if you were charged with more than one DUI, you could see a rise in the seriousness of the sentencing. The charges increased depending on the number of times a driver was cited and convicted of a DUI. As with most other offenses, harsher sentences were handed down to repeat offenders. Even today in the state of NJ, the DUI statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, requires that repeat DUI offenders receive harsher sentences than those being charged with a first time DUI offense. This is to protect other drivers and pedestrians from drivers who repeatedly drive drunk or drive under the influence of drugs.

The Ten Year NJ Step Down Rule

The courts in NJ examined the penalties distributed to DUI offenders in NJ. In 2008, New Jersey courts put into place what is commonly known as the DUI “step down” rule. This rule states that if ten years have passed between an initial and second DUI conviction or if ten years have passed between a second and third DUI conviction, then the court must display a measure of leniency when handing down a sentence. To be clear, the court has to treat the defendant as if he or she has one less conviction when determining the sentence for the current DUI. So, if you are being charged with a second DUI, and ten years have passed since your first DUI, then your second one is treated as a first offense. Read the example below for an illustration of how the 10 year step down rule applies to subsequent DUI's in New Jersey.

An Example:

Let's say a defendant from Toms River has two DUI convictions. One night, driving home from Seaside Heights, he is stopped on Route 37 and issued a DUI. He then hires a lawyer, goes to court, and is convicted of a third DUI. His sentence is 180 days in jail, loss of license for 10 years, a fine and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device. That is a hefty sentence.

However, let's say that the night he was driving home on Route 37 and was issued a DUI was more than ten years after the second DUI conviction. Under the NJ step down rule, his sentence for the third conviction has changed. The sentence would be reduced and the third DUI would be treated as a second DUI. He would be sentenced to pay a fine, spend 30 day of community service, serve up to 90 days in jail and will have his license revoked for two years. Additionally, an ignition interlock device must be installed on his vehicle.

The ten year step down law in NJ is applied only when it is requested; therefore, before going to court for your sentencing hearing on a subsequent DUI charge, it is important to speak with an experienced lawyer who is familiar with this specific NJ law. Otherwise, your subsequent DUI's will be viewed as more serious offenses with harsher sentencing penalties.

The Need For A DUI Lawyer

Although the example makes it sound quick and easy, the NJ step down law could be difficult to argue in court without familiarity with New Jersey DUI case law. A lawyer is needed in order to effectively have this process put into action for your defense. If you have been charged with your second, third or subsequent DUI in Ocean County or Monmouth County, New Jersey, contact Villani & DeLuca today to speak with an experienced DUI defense lawyer. The experienced attorneys at Villani & DeLuca offer free consultations to all new clients.

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Villani & DeLuca, P.C. is committed to answering your questions about Divorce & Family Law, Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and DWI & Traffic Law issues in New Jersey. We offer a Free Consultation and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.