The first question most clients ask is: what am I facing if I am found guilty of DWI?
This page provides a starting point to answer that question. However, keep things in perspective: contrary to popular belief, many people — particularly those represented by highly-experienced and skilled DWI defense lawyers — are found not guilty of DWI or are offered pleas to lesser offenses.
Often, the people who get a dismissal or plea to a lesser charge are, in fact, guilty of driving under the influence.
Also, keep in mind that almost every DWI prosecution involves two proceedings:
- potential punishment if you are convicted in court (discussed on this page)
- administrative license suspension proceeding (read more here)
Depending on the facts of the case — and, in reality, depending on the experience and skill of the defense lawyer — many clients are offered pleas to lesser offenses, e.g., the client pleads guilty to Reckless Driving, and the DWI charge is dismissed. Those fortunate clients do NOT face the penalties described below.
Penalties for First Offense DWI
In NH a “first offense DWI” means a DWI where there are no prior convictions from any State within the last 10 years (measuring date of prior conviction to date of new arrest), and a DWI that is not “aggravated” by certain facts (see below). The penalties for first offense DWI and for Aggravated and Subsequent Offense DWIs changed substantially based on a law that became effective on January 1, 2013. Much of what you may read online about DWI penalties in New Hampshire has become obsolete as a result of this law! Under the new law, the punishment for a regular, first-offense DWI conviction for an over-21 driver is punishable by:
- A fine of between $500.00 and $1,200.00, plus a standard penalty assessment of 24% of the amount of the fine.
- A mandatory license loss of nine months, which can be reduced to ninety days — the maximum loss is two years.
- You must schedule a substance abuse screening assessment within 14 days of conviction. Depending upon its results, you may also be required to participate in a full substance abuse disorder evaluation within 30 days and follow all recommendations. Those who receive substantial aftercare recommendations are unlikely to secure license restoration within the statutory minimum 90 days.
- Your failure to follow these conditions in a timely fashion will prevent the court and the Department of Safety from restoring your license sooner than nine months unless you can demonstrate extenuating circumstances to the division of health and human services.
- Upon conviction of any DWI offense, you also must complete a state-approved DWI course prior to restoration of your license or operating privilege. For a first offense DWI, you must attend and complete a state-approved 20-hour Impaired Driver Education Program and any recommended aftercare, including attendance at AA or further alcohol treatment. Some of these programs meet in the evening, some on weekends.
- Now, even in first offense DWI prosecutions, the Judge retains the discretion to require the convicted defendant to install an ignition interlock device on her vehicle and pay for its remote monitoring.
- Even if the Judge does not order ignition interlock, the Department of Safety may, following conviction for DWI, schedule an “ignition interlock hearing” – a hearing to determine whether driver will be required to install an ignition interlock device on the vehicles registered to her or used by her on a regular basis, for at least 12 months, and up to 24 months. Read more about ignition interlock hearings.
If you are under twenty-one years of age at the time of the offense, you face a minimum revocation of one year. If you are under twenty, in addition to the one year minimum imposed by the Court, you face an additional loss that can vary from twenty to ninety days, depending on your prior record.
Administrative License Suspension
Remember that this page covers only the court-ordered penalties for DWI. There are also the administrative license suspension consequences for refusing a post-arrest breath, blood, urine or physical test; or for submitting to a chemical test that is at or above the legal limit of .08 (21-and-over driver) or .02 (under 21 driver). Generally speaking, this will be a 6 month suspension for a first offense, or a 2 year suspension if there is a prior DWI conviction or prior refusal of test in the last 10 years. Suspensions for refusals of tests run consecutively (on and after) all other suspensions. Read more about the administrative license suspension.
Commercial Driver's Licenses
BEWARE: DWI and certain other motor vehicle convictions, as well as refusing to submit to a chemical test or providing a test over the .08 legal limit (.04 if stopped while driving a commercial vehicle), may result in a lengthy revocation of your CDL, even if you were not driving a commercial vehicle. Do not consider leading guilty to any motor vehicle offense until you know what effect such a plea may have on your CDL. Read more information about Commercial Driver’s Licenses.
Children in the Car
If the Judge makes a finding that you had a child under age 16 in the car, there is a mandatory license loss of two years, which cannot be reduced – even for first offense DWI.
Penalties for Aggravated DWI
The more serious charge of aggravated DWI may be brought against you if the State alleges and proves beyond a reasonable doubt, in addition to the basic “elements” of DWI, one of the following:
- a chemical test shows an alcohol concentration of 0.16% or more, OR
- speeding in excess of thirty miles an hour over the speed limit, OR
- an attempt to flee or elude the police, OR
- passenger under the age of sixteen.
Aggravated DWI is a criminal offense, a class A misdemeanor, unless you are charged with a more serious felony for having caused serious bodily injury (including injury to yourself) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If convicted of a misdemeanor aggravated DWI, you will be receive much higher penalties:
- A fine of between $750.00 and $2000.00, plus mandatory penalty assessment of 24% of the amount of your fine.
- You will be sentenced to at least a minimum of 17 days in the County House of Correction, with 12 of those days suspended. The maximum sentence is one year.
- You will receive a license loss of between one and two years.
- If you are convicted of aggravated DWI based upon your transporting a person under the age of sixteen, you must be sentenced to the maximum license loss of two years.
- You will be required to schedule a full substance abuse disorder evaluation and follow all recommendations, which are likely to be substantial and require many months to complete for this type of offense.
- Finally, an aggravated DWI conviction will result in the requirement that you install and maintain, at your own expense, an alcohol ignition interlock device for a period of one to two years following restoration of your license.
You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible after a DWI arrest. Contrary to popular belief, many people are found not guilty of DWI.
Penalties for DWI Second, Third, etc.
DWI second, sometimes called subsequent offense, is a crime — a Class A misdemeanor — and must be based on a prior conviction for DWI within ten years of the date of the offense.
If you are charged with a second offense DWI that occurs between two and ten years after your first conviction you face a mandatory minimum sentence of seventeen days in the County House of Correction, 12 of those days suspended; the maximum sentence is up to a year’s imprisonment.
If your prior DWI conviction is within two years of the date of the second arrest, the mandatory minimum jail sentence is 60 days, 30 days suspended, 30 to serve with no reduction for “good behavior.”
If you are charged with a third offense based on two prior DWI convictions within a 10 year period, you also face higher mandatory minimum penalties, including 180 days in the house of correction, 150 days of which are suspended; and an indefinite license loss, but no less than five years. In addition, you will be required to install and maintain, at your own expense, an alcohol ignition interlock device for a period of one to two years following restoration of your license.
Penalties for Felony DWI
Fourth-time DWI offenders face a felony conviction and a possible seven years in State Prison. The absolute minimum jail sentence is 180 days, 150 of which are suspended and you must also complete the Impaired Driver Care Management Program, which will entail a lengthy “aftercare” program. You also may face a felony charge if you cause serious bodily injury to anyone, including yourself, while operating under the influence of alcohol or at or in excess of the statutory BAC limit applicable to you (see the penalties for Aggravated DWI above). In the case of any felony the license loss is indefinite, but no less than seven years.
Collateral Consequences of a DWI Conviction
There are many other “collateral consequences” of DWI conviction – e.g., for out of state drivers, CDL holders, and non-citizens. Read more about collateral consequences of a DWI conviction.
*In order to receive a minimum sentence, you must schedule a substance abuse screening assessment within 14 days and potentially schedule a substance abuse disorder evaluation within 30 days. Some judges will not reduce license suspension all the way down to 90 days except in rare circumstances.
**The required programming will be extensive and will be determined by the individual who conducts the substance abuse disorder evaluation.
Your Best Chance at Reducing DWI Penalties: Contact an Experienced DWI Defense Lawyer
Working with an experienced New Hampshire DWI defense lawyer offers your best chance at reducing your DWI charges and receiving lower penalties. For a free consultation regarding working with Lothstein Guerriero, PLLC, contact us by calling our offices in Keene (603) 352-5000 or Concord (603) 513-1919. You may also complete our online information form or chat now with a representative by clicking on the live chat button. Evening and weekend appointments are available.
We also encourage you to read about our victories for clients in New Hampshire DWI cases.