Legal Defense Brief: Defining Impairment for Drunken Driving Cases in New Jersey

Here in the Garden State, a motorist can be pulled over for any number of traffic violations including excessive speed, failure to maintain one’s lane, improper use of turn signal and even defective vehicle equipment, such as a broken taillight or burned-out headlamp. It’s not that these are unusual violations, but each of them, and many others, may open the door to other potentially more serious impaired driving charges.

Whether at happens in Bergen, Essex, Ocean or Passaic County, once a patrolman has stopped a driver for one or more of the aforementioned violations, if that officer has reason to suspect that the driver of that vehicle may be drunk or otherwise intoxicated due to the consumption of beer, wine or hard liquor, there is a good chance that the patrolman will ask the motorist to step out of the vehicle and perform one or more of the standardized field sobriety tests. If the officer is satisfied that a suspect is likely drunk, impaired or otherwise driving under the influence, police headquarters may be the next stop for a breathalyzer test.

Here in New Jersey, determining is motorist was operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, involves measuring the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC). As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, I and my staff of experienced DWI defense lawyers have handled numerous kinds of drunken driving cases over the years. Ay least for the state, establishing that a defendant’s BAC is above the legal limit (of 0.08 percent) is a key piece of evidence for the prosecution’s case against many drivers accused of DWI.

Of course, the law states that if a person who operates a car, truck, SUV or other motor vehicle is determined to have a BAC of 0.08 percent or more, that person can be found guilty of drunk driving — also known as driving under the influence of alcohol, or more commonly, driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The abbreviation, “BAC” refers to the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream of a drunken driving suspect. It is important to understand that, while New Jersey law makes reference to 0.08 percent BAC as the legal limit, a motorist can still be convicted of intoxicated driving even if his BAC measurement is actually below the 0.08 percent limit.

To be fair, it is a well-known fact that alcohol consumption, even in small amounts, can dull an individual’s senses, reduce a driver’s reaction time and interfere with an individual’s decision-making ability. Both vision and mental awareness can also be adversely affected to one degree or another. If a person consumes any amount of alcohol and his or her driving ability or performance is affected, that individual could possibly be convicted of DWI in a New Jersey courtroom.

Similarly, impairment while operating a motor vehicle either by prescription medications or illicit drugs (sometimes referred to as controlled dangerous substances (CDS), it is also a violation of state law. If a person operates a car, truck or motorcycle while under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit producing drug, that motorist can be charged and possibly convicted of drug DUI. Even a non-driver can find him or herself charged with a violation of New Jersey’s DWI laws, if that individual is found to have allowed another person who is obviously impaired or intoxicated to operate a motor vehicle.

Most police departments around the state rely on breath-test devices (also known as breathalyzers) to measure the BAC of a suspected drunk driver and to provide evidence for use in a court proceeding. There are instances in which the police will make an effort to obtain BAC evident via an actual blood sample taken from the defendant. When blood is drawn from an individual suspected of drunken or impaired driving, the following situations are typical:

— The suspected drunken driver has been injured (police will draw the blood sample and/or the hospital will take the sample)
— The suspected DWI violator has refused to provide a breath sample
— The breathalyzer device shows a that the driver’s BAC is dangerously high — The DWI suspect has an unusually low BAC, which may be an indication of narcotic usage