Everyone knows that drinking and driving is against the law in New Jersey. What you might not know, especially if you have never been charged with DWI before, is that the punishments for a drunk driving conviction get increasingly harsh the second, third or subsequent time.

For a first DWI offense, the sentence you face is relatively light, assuming that there were no serious injuries or other aggravating factors. Besides a fine of $300-$500, the judge will suspend your driver’s license until you pay to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. Instead of jail time, you can be sentenced to at least 12 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center over two consecutive days.

Second and third convictions get more serious

But if you are convicted of a second DWI offense within 10 years of the date of your first arrest, the sentencing gets tougher. The court will suspend your license, and to get it back, you will have to install an ignition interlock device and use it for one to two years. You will have to spend 48 consecutive hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center and pay a fine of $500-$1,000.

Then, if you receive a third DWI conviction within 10 years, your license will be suspended for eight years. To get it back, you will need an ignition interlock device in your vehicle for two to four years. You will be sent to jail for 180 days, though up to 90 of those days can be spent in a court-approved residential rehab facility. Still, you might not be allowed to return home or to your job for around six months.

How to make smart decisions about your defense

Because New Jersey criminal law looks back a full ten years for prior convictions, you must be very careful when dealing with a DWI charge for the second or third time. Pleading guilty might not be the best option when the evidence against you is shaky at best and you could be facing months behind bars. Working with a defense attorney gives you the best chance of avoiding a serious mistake in your case.