NJ Drunken Driving Update: Understanding the DWI Arrest Process in New Jersey (Part 2)

Knowing how police departments and the judicial system handle drunken drivers is one large step in preparing for a future DWI arrest. This is not to say that learning about the steps of a drunken driving arrest and possible conviction indicates a person’s propensity to drive under the influence of alcohol. While no one expects or even welcomes being charged with DWI or drug DUI, most people are fairly unprepared when it does happen to them.

As a New Jersey DWI defense attorney and a former municipal prosecutor, I understand the law and its inner workings. Below we have included some additional information that go along with a previous blog entry. Our intent here is to perhaps help some drivers to be more prepared if and when they are stopped by a state trooper or local police officer and charged with DWI or even a drug-related DWI offense, such as marijuana possession in a vehicle.

Following a traffic stop, or at a sobriety checkpoint, if a police officer suspects a driver may be operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or prescription medication, he may use several methods to determine if that person is inebriated. One way for an office to decide if a suspect should be taken to police headquarters for a breath test is the use of one of several standardized field sobriety tests.

As one of the many tools of law enforcement, field sobriety tests can be used as evidence to prove that a driver was under the influence at the time of the arrest. They typically involve three separate tests:

1) The one leg stand test 2) The horizontal gaze nystagmus 3) The walk-and-turn test
The second of these three may be familiar to most people who have watched movies or TV shows where an officer asks the subject to follow a light or a finger with his or her eyes from one side to the other.

While administering these tests, an officer will likely be observing the suspect’s actions and making note of almost every thing the person says of does, all of which will likely be used in court as evidence to gain a drunken driving or drug DUI conviction. A patrolman may even watch how driver exits her vehicle and record that for use in court by the prosecuting attorney.

Some people wonder how a police officer knew they were drunk. This can be as simple as watching for tiny cue, such as using the side of the vehicle for support or appearing unsure of one’s footing. This is why anyone who is serious about contesting a charge of DWI will want to consult a lawyer regarding the legality of any tests and whether or not these tests were administered correctly.

Many times I am asked if a driver can refuse to take an Alcotest or breathalyzer test. The answer to this is no. In New Jersey, motorists not have the right to refuse a breath or other type of chemical test that police use to measure blood-alcohol content.

As part of New Jersey’s implied consent law, one of the conditions of being granted a driver’s license is giving your approval to take breathalyzer or chemical test following a future DWI arrest. Please keep in mind, however, that a police officer cannot randomly request a driver to take a breathalyzer without first having probable cause that the motorist is intoxicated.

Should a driver refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test, that individual can be charged with breath test refusal, which is a completely separate offense from a DWI charge. If one refuses to take a breathalyzer test and that person is found guilty of DWI, any fines will be added to those of the potential drunk driving conviction.

One final point to remember: A motorist doesn’t have the right to counsel during the administration of a breathalyzer or other chemical test. Secondly, police officers are not obliged to wait for a suspect’s lawyer to arrive at headquarters or the local hospital prior to administering any of these tests.