How New Hampshire’s DWI Laws Measure Up to Those of Other States

Lawmakers and legislators in New Hampshire work diligently to ensure that our state maintains the most effective DWI laws available. In addition to ensuring that our laws cover multiple situations and are clear, the sentencing guidelines for such offenses are also frequently evaluated. An ideal sentence will deter recidivism by sufficiently punishing the perpetrator for their offense.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report this month that compares DWI criminal penalties from each of the 50 states, including Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, with one another. The report examined multiple factors, which included the following:

§  Whether or not the state had established a policy concerning DWI offenders and administrative license suspensions

§  The sanctions against first time DWI offenders

§  The sanctions against repeat DWI offenders

§  The sanctions against DWI offenders with exceptionally high blood alcohol contents

§  Whether or not the state had established and enacted a policy concerning ignition interlock devices and usage

The findings in each category are examined below:

Administrative Suspension of Driver’s Licenses

Of all 52 districts included in the study, each had established a policy regarding the administrative suspension of driver’s licenses with the exception of 9 states (Tennessee, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Montana, Michigan, and Kentucky). In our state, a DWI suspect must submit to an administrative license suspension if the defendant refused to submit to a sobriety test when asked to do so by a law enforcement official who possessed reasonable cause to believe he or she was intoxicated. An administrative license suspension also automatically occurs if the defendant is found to have had a blood alcohol content over the legal limit.

Criminal Penalties for First Time Offenders

In New Hampshire, there is not an established mandatory jail sentence for a first time DWI offender. Furthermore, there is not an established minimum amount of community service that must be completed after one’s conviction. However, an offender can expect to lose their driving privileges for a minimum of three months up to a maximum of two years. Pursuant to the report by the NHTSA, the majority of states do not have an established mandatory minimum amount of jail time for first time offenders, but many do have maximums that range from 48 hours to upwards of six months. Although no amount of jail time officially has to be served, a judge does retain the discretion to hand down a jail sentence as he or she sees fit. For a first time conviction, most states do also require 30-90 days of license suspension.

Criminal Penalties for Repeat DWI Offenders

New Hampshire state law necessitates that repeat offenders must submit to three years of driver’s license suspension. The minimum amount of jail time a repeat offender must serve is dependent upon the number of prior convictions he or she has, and these jail sentences can range from 5-60 days imprisonment. The majority of other states require repeat offenders to undergo 1-2 years of license suspension for repeat offenses, and none of the states had mandatory minimums of jail time that exceeded more than 3 years. Jail sentences varied from one state to the next, but on average, they ranged from 5 days to 365 days. 5 days was the most common mandatory minimum among all states.

Penalties for DWIs Involving High Blood Alcohol Contents

Of all 52 districts examined, 36 districts had established laws regarding DWIs involving high BAC levels. Although the NHTSA did not list New Hampshire as having established laws pertaining to high BAC DWI offenses, any motorist with a blood alcohol content of .16% or higher is charged with an aggravated DWI offense, which is accompanied by stiffer and stricter penalties. The average blood alcohol content that is utilized as the minimum for high BAC penalties is .15%; however, several states used .10% at their minimum, while in others, the minimum was as high as .20%. The criminal sanctions for a high BAC level generally included additional days of jail time or an additional license suspension period of 90-365 days.

Laws Regarding Ignition Interlock Devices

31 of the districts examined required all those convicted of a DWI to have an ignition interlock device installed as a requirement for having their driver’s license reinstated. Another 15 districts required aggravated or repeat offenders to have these devices installed. By comparison, New Hampshire only requires those charged with an aggravated DWI or repeat offenders to install ignition interlocks. In most states, the length of time that motorists are required to maintain these devices depends upon the motorist’s personal history.

In examining these comparisons, New Hampshire’s DWI laws are on par with most other states in terms of sentencing. However, when it comes to license suspensions, New Hampshire maintains tougher laws than most other states. Our state does not require all DWI offenders interlock devices as most other states do. Initially, it might seem as though New Hampshire has lighter laws, but in fact, the opposite is true. Installation of an ignition interlock device actually enables a motorist to have their driver’s license reinstated sooner whereas offenders in other states where these devices are not an option are required to serve the whole term of their license suspension before they become eligible for reinstatement.

If you have been arrested for, and charged with, a DWI offense in the state of New Hampshire, you are strongly encouraged to contact an experienced and skilled NH DWI lawyer immediately. Even first time offenders face strict penalties in our state, and a DWI conviction can have many negative ramifications on your life. Your initial consultation for your case is 100% free, and we can be reached via telephone, email, or through our website.