NJ Drug DUI Defense Update: Understanding the Difference between Drug DUI and DWI Charges

I’ve said it here before, and most people understand that DWI arrests can occur almost anywhere, and almost any time. No matter where you live in the Garden State, be it Morris, Hudson, Mercer or Atlantic County, state police troopers and other local law enforcement officers have but little tolerance when it comes to drunken driving on the part of area residents, not to mention out-of-state drivers.

This lack of tolerance covers a range of offenses such as alcohol-related DWI and drug-related DUI, the latter of which includes prescription drugs and marijuana, not to mention seriously illegal drugs like cocaine and heroine. This last group comes under the heading of controlled dangerous substances, better known as CDS.

Being a New Jersey DWI defense lawyer, I offer a vast amount of experience in the defense of motorists accused of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by beer, wine or other alcoholic beverages or impaired due to the affects of CDS-type drugs. It commonly accepted that police routinely will charge a driver with drunken driving when he or she is suspected of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). These drugs can include but are not limited to narcotic, hallucinogenic and/or habit-forming substances.

To understand the process of charging a driver with drug DUI, it is also important to know that New Jersey law prohibits operating a motor vehicle by a person who is impaired by marijuana, cocaine, or other narcotics. This group also includes prescription medication such as morphine. For legal purposes, the standard of proof used to establish a narcotic-based DWI charge was established about five years ago in State v. Bealor. Moreover, State v. DiCarlo defines the term “narcotic” for the specific purpose of establishing a basis for driving while intoxicated charges here in the Garden State.

Defending client who has been charged with DUID requires a slightly different approach than DWI cases. Specifically, this difference is in the area of blood and breath tests, which are quite common for DWI cases. One area that differs applies to instances where a chemical test may have been used to evaluate the motorist’s alleged drug use. Here in New Jersey, our implied consent law only applies in cases involving alcohol-related DWI arrests — it does not require a driver to provide blood, breath or urine samples when he or she is suspected of driving while impaired by prescription or illegal drugs.

Also important to note is that the law draws a distinction between a driver of privately-owned passenger car and the operator of a commercial truck (that is a person holding a commercial driver’s license or CDL). In cases involving commercial truckers and other holders of a CDL, these people are required to submit to a chemical test if they are involved in a traffic accident, or even if they are just suspected of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs.

As for chemical testing, it is commonly understood that concentration of a drug in an individual’s bloodstream does not necessarily indicate a particular level of intoxication. For DUID defense purposes, chemical tests (those used to detect the presence of a drug or drugs in a person’s bloodstream) are only valid if administered by a drug recognition expert, or DRE for short. An important point to remember here is if chemical test is administered in a police station, but there is no DRE on staff, the results of that test will not be admissible as evidence in court.