What to Know about DWI Resulting in Accidents and Injuries in New Jersey

Everyone has made a wrong decision, and the consequences can sometimes be grave.  The charges for driving while under the influence when an accident is involved can add up to severe charges.  If you have been charged with a DWI and caused an accident, it is imperative that you contact a defense attorney immediately.

What if an Accident Happens in a DWI Case in NJ?

An accident can add more charges than just a DWI, some of which are felony criminal offenses. These are called indictable offenses in New Jersey and they carry terms of imprisonment for those convicted.  You can also be responsible financially for the injuries of those involved in the accident if it is determined to be your fault in civil court.  Abandoning the scene of an accident, which sometimes happens when the driver is afraid of arrest, can add even more charges for which you may also receive enhanced penalties.

How Severe are Charges For a DWI Accident Causing Bodily Injury in NJ?

The charge for DWI resulting in bodily injury is assault by auto. New Jersey comes down particularly hard on DWI accident cases, especially when the accident seriously injures someone. Often, what they consider a “serious” injury is painted with a broad brush.  Cases regarding bodily injury in an accident where the at-fault driver was driving while intoxicated are a fourth-degree offense punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.  A third-degree crime takes place when there is serious bodily injury. The penalties are 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.  There are several criteria to be charged with a second-degree crime, which is the most severe: the accident occurred in a school crossing or school zone, the driver was violating the state’s DWI law, and the injuries caused are considered serious.

What Constitutes Bodily and Serious Bodily Injury in DUI Related Accidents?

Bodily injury can be defined as impairment of a physical condition, pain, or illness and serious bodily injury is one where the victim suffers permanent disfigurement, a risk of dying, loss of a body part, loss of function of a body part, or the loss of an organ.

Facing Charges For NJ DWI Resulting in Death

The charge for a DWI resulting in death is also known as vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide.  There are three parts that the prosecutor must show for a conviction of vehicular manslaughter, also called death by auto or vessel.  The first is that the accused was, in fact, driving the vehicle, and second, they were doing so in a reckless manner.  Driving recklessly means they were driving while intoxicated, had fallen asleep at the wheel, did not stay in their lane, or were using a hand-held device.  Weaving in and out of traffic, racing, or driving at a dangerously high rate of speed are also categorized as reckless driving. The third component is that the defendant was the direct cause of the victim’s death.

Several years ago, New Jersey passed a law which is written explicitly for vehicular homicide cases where the perpetrator was driving while under the influence. This offense is easier for the state to prove, as it requires fewer elements to get a conviction. According to the strict liability vehicular homicide statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3, a driver can be charged with violating this law if they are involved in an accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and someone else is killed due to the accident. In these cases, the prosecution need only prove that the driver was driving while intoxicated or impaired by a substance, and that the death of the other individual was not too unrelated to the driver’s conduct leading up to the crash. This strict liability case removes the presumption of non-incarceration, even though the charge itself is a third degree indictable offense.

How to Determine the Degree and Penalties for a DUI Accident that Caused Death in NJ

First-degree vehicular homicide has a potential fine of $200,000 and a 10 to 20-year prison sentence. First and second-degree crimes under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5 differ only in the fact that with a second-degree charge, the DWI accident wasn’t in a school zone.  Vehicular homicide in the second degree carries 5-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. For a strict liability vehicular homicide charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3, the degree of crime is less but the sentencing parameters are stringent. In the third degree, a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000 is applied.  Typically, if it is the first offense, jail time is not mandatory. However, if it is a conviction for third-degree strict liability vehicular homicide, there is a presumption of imprisonment.

Importance and Purpose of Civil Reservation In These Cases

If a driver enters a guilty plea to assault by auto or vehicular manslaughter, and they receive a civil reservation, the civil court is not permitted to use the guilty plea against the driver in a lawsuit.  Its purpose is to allow someone to accept a plea of guilty without having to worry that it will automatically make them civilly liable for the victim’s damages.  Without this protection, the courts would be overflowing with needless trials of people seeking exoneration to avoid being found liable automatically in civil court. A civil lawsuit in these cases can be financially devastating.

Have You Been Charged in a DWI Accident in NJ?

There are numerous components that have to fit together in a particular way for the prosecutor’s case to be airtight.  For this reason, an experienced defense attorney can help create the reasonable doubt necessary to get your charges reduced or dropped altogether. There are many mitigating circumstances that can be leveraged to move the balance in our favor. If you or someone you know has been charged with assault by auto or vehicular homicide related to a DWI accident, you need to hire someone who can protect you. A battle-tested defense lawyer can work to make sure every avenue is taken to help minimize or mitigate the consequences in your DUI accident case. We have a passion for defending our clients and a history of favorable outcomes in Parsippany, Florham Park, Madison, Rockaway, Mount Olive, Morristown, and other towns in Morris County NJ.

Don’t wait another day to get a head start on your defense. Call 973-524-7238 to speak with an attorney who can help. Consultations are always provided at no cost anytime, day or night.