NJ Drunken Driving Update: Understanding the DWI Arrest Process in New Jersey (Part 1)

Getting into a motor vehicle after having a drink or two is always a gamble. Not simply because being impaired can reduce one’s reaction time and possibly result in a traffic accident, but also because New Jersey’s court system and police agencies are constantly on the lookout for drunken drivers. As New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyers, I and my staff understand the process of a DWI arrest and conviction. As a former municipal prosecutor, I also understand the strategies used by prosecuting attorneys to secure a DWI or drug DUI conviction.

Understanding the process yourself could help in the future. Although nobody expects to be stopped and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription medication, being prepared is not an admission of guilt. It’s better to understand how this sometimes lengthy process occurs, if only to reach the realization that a DWI conviction is not something you want to experience, for numerous reason.

The following should be of some assistance for drivers here in the Garden State, at least so they can possibly sidestep the pitfalls and potential legal difficulties of being arrested, charged and possibly convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription meds, marijuana or other illicit drugs.

Regardless of the potential outcome, the process usually begins with a motorist being pulled over by a state trooper or local police officer. And whether you are arrested in Sussex, Passaic, Union or Atlantic County, you could be charged with any number of violations, such as DWI, driving under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) or breath test refusal.

Some may wonder under what particular circumstances an officer is legally justified to pull them over for driving drunk. This is a common question to which the answer is simple, but occasionally confusing. Although a police officer may not actually know that a driver is impaired due to alcohol consumption or prescription drug use, he or she may decide to stop you for any number of potential traffic violations.

From relatively egregious traffic offenses, such as running a red light or speeding, to seemingly innocuous violations, such as a burned-out taillight or cracked windshield, any one of these or other offenses can result in a motorist being stopped. Of course, suspicious driving patterns, such as drifting across the centerline or weaving in ones lane, will also tip off an officer to the driver’s state of impairment.

Whenever a patrolman observes a so-called erratic driving behaviors, he or she may decide to make a completely legitimate traffic stop in order to observe the motorist more carefully.

Once the stop has been made, the patrolman will likely ask the driver a number of questions. Whether you must answer these queries depends on the actual information be requested. You do not have to answer all questions put to you by an officer, but some you are legally required to answer, such as your name, age and whether you have a valid driver’s license.

It is important to remember that police officers are not obliged to read the driver his Miranda rights until after the arrest is made. Up to that point, he will likely attempt to illicit an incriminating statement from the motorist, such as an admission that he or she was just returning from a party or that he or she had actually been drinking. Gathering this type of information will help the municipal prosecutor to prove the DWI charges against you in a court of law and likely secure a conviction for drunken driving.