NJ Legal Defense Update: Understanding the DWI Arrest and Conviction Process — Part Two

Understanding how law enforcement and the New Jersey courts approach drunk drivers is a basic first step in getting ready for a potential drunken driving arrest sometime in the future. It goes without saying that few people, if any, expect to be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DWI) or prescription medications (drug DUI). In fact, most drivers are hardly prepared when a drunken driving arrest does happen to them. Needless to say, being taken into custody by a New Jersey state trooper or local police officer is just the start of what can be a long and costly process.

As a New Jersey DWI defense lawyer, I believe that knowledge is power. The following offering provides some additional info that supplements a previous entry from October. As Mercer, Middlesex and Essex County DWI defense lawyers, our hope is that this information may be of some help to motorists if and when they are pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription meds, or even illicit drugs (drug DUI), and maybe even marijuana possession in a motor vehicle.

When it comes to impaired driving, the police may suspect a motorist is drunk based on the manner in which he or she acts during a routine traffic stop. One way that patrolmen make the decision to have a driver submit to a breath or blood test is to have the suspect perform several standardized field sobriety tests.

A one of the main tools of drunken driving enforcement, field sobriety tests can be one of several pieces of evidence use by the prosecution in court to prove that a driver was impaired at the times of the arrest. These sobriety tests typically involve three separate tests:

1) Horizontal gaze nystagmus 2) One-leg standing test 3) Walk-and-turn test
That first one is something you may recall from TV cop shows where the officer asks the suspect to follow a penlight with his eyes as the patrolman moves it from side to side. Naturally, anyone charged with DWI should consult with an attorney vis-à-vis the legality of any tests and whether they were administered in the proper manner.

In addition to the above tests, an officer will also be looking for anything a subject may say or do during the DWI stop, all of which could possibly be noted and then used against the motorist as evidence to gain a drunken driving or drug DUI conviction. As one might imagine, even the way a suspect gets out of the vehicle may be used against him or her by the local prosecutor when trying the case in court.

The entire process of a DWI stop is used in some fashion to evaluate a driver’s level of inebriation. Small, yet telltale clues are always being looked for by a patrolman as the suspect answers questions or performs the sobriety tests. Whether a driver uses the side of the car to support himself or if a motorist appears somewhat limp or otherwise unsure of his or her footing can be a huge giveaway that a person is impaired.

All of this is simply a prelude to the ultimate test of sobriety, the breathalyzer test. Many people ask us if they should submit to an Alcotest. Well, here in New Jersey, drivers very simply do not have the legal right to refuse a breath, blood or other type of chemical test that police use to measure blood-alcohol content (BAC).

This is based on New Jersey’s implied consent law. Simply put, as a condition of being granted your driver’s license, you give your consent to take breathalyzer or chemical test in the future if you are arrested for driving while intoxicated. This is not to say that the police can, at random, require a driver to take a breathalyzer test — they must first have probable cause that the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Understand that refusing a breathalyzer means that you could be charged with breath test refusal, which is an offense completely separate from a DWI charge. Should a motorist refuse a breath test and is found guilty of that charge, any fines will be addition to that possible DWI conviction.

Something that many people are not aware of, which should be mentioned here: Motorists actually do not have the right to demand that counsel be at their side while a breathalyzer or other chemical test is administered. Likewise, law enforcement departments are also not obliged to wait for your drunk driving defense attorney to show up at the station house or hospital before the administration of any BAC tests.