Arrested for Drunk Driving in New Jersey? A DWI Conviction is a Multi-step Process

As a New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyer my job is to help motorists accused of DWI or driving under the influence of alcohol. My office also handles drug DUI (driving under the influence of prescription drugs, as well as marijuana and other substances). The road to a drunk driving conviction is now necessarily a long one, but it has many steps. I’ll outline the process here to help explain the usual stages of a DWI case.

Arrest
Whether you live in Newark, Atlantic City, Trenton or any of the dozens of cities and towns throughout the state, every DWI charge starts with an arrest. You should know that for a drunk driving traffic stop to be valid it stop must be supported by what the law defines as reasonable suspicion that a motor vehicle violation has been committed.

As per State v. Carpentieri, New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that a police officer must have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a traffic law violation has in fact occurred before he or she may effect a DWI stop. Furthermore, once a motorist is stopped, that law enforcement officer must have probable cause to believe the driver of the vehicle is intoxicated before he or she can make an arrest and conduct a breathalyzer test.

Bear in mind that there is no right to advice from counsel at this early stage and therefore an attorney, in particular, an experienced DWI lawyer, will be of no assistance at this point in time.

Arraignment
The next step following an arrest for DWI, DUI, or breath test refusal in New Jersey is the arraignment. During this step, the defendant receives a Complaint. Once the Complaint is filed, the defendant makes his or her initial appearance at arraignment where the court informs the defendant of the charges. At this same time, the defendant is informed of his rights under the law and then he or she will enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

If you hire a drunk driving defense lawyer to represent you, the initial appearance can normally be waived. The arraignment can be “adjourned” by the attorney sending a letter of representation to the Court advising it that you are represented, were advised of your rights, and that you are entering a “Not Guilty” plea.

DiscoveryIn this third step, or discovery process, the State must turn over all evidence that it has against the defendant. It is at this point that the DWI defense attorney can determine if any issues arise such as lack of reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, lack of probable cause, problems with the breathalyzer operator, or malfunctions of the breathalyzer machine, etc. It is important to obtain all documents relating to the DWI charge in order to determine if an expert should be contacted for trial.

TrialFollowing discovery, if a plea agreement cannot be reached a trial begins in the municipal court of the municipality in which the defendant was charged. This trial typically takes place in front of a municipal court judge who determines guilt or innocence. There is no right to a jury trial for drunk driving offenses. If found guilty, the municipal court judge then sentences the defendant according to the New Jersey’s guidelines for DWI and DUI offenses.