New Jersey Legal Defense Update: Proving a Driver was Legally Intoxicated can be Challenging

As a former municipal prosecutor, I know that it is sometimes difficult for the prosecution to prove that a motorist was legally drunk at the time of a DWI, drug DWI or DUI arrest. Much of the state’s case against a driver accused of driving under the influence relies on supporting evidence collected at the time of the drunken driving stop. During this process, the suspect may be asked to exit the vehicle, execute several of the standardized field sobriety tests and eventually might be taken into custody to have his or her blood-alcohol content (BAC) level tested at police headquarters.

In instances where a driver has been arrested for DWI, the prosecutor’s office will want to have what is referred to as “proof of intoxication.” As New Jersey drunk driving defense attorneys, I my staff of experienced DWI lawyers remind those motorists charged with driving under the influence of alcohol that they should never assume that the prosecutor’s case is a strong one.

There are a number of important considerations to take into account following a traffic stop that has resulted in charges of drunken driving being levied against oneself. This goes for alcohol-related DWI and even impaired driving charges as a result of prescription medication use or possibly because of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) such as cocaine or marijuana.

Following an arrest for DWI or DUI, one must consider whether or not the state can really prove that you were operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. New Jersey law defines legal intoxication as a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. If you blow a 0.08 or more, the police can charge you with DWI. But even without that BAC reading, law enforcement personnel can arrest a driver if it is determined (through other means) that the operator of a motor vehicle was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time they were stopped by the officer.

As for our part, there are several defenses against a claim of intoxication, including the relatively well-known fact that breath and blood tests are infamously inaccurate. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for a patrolman who conducts the BAC measurement to be insufficiently qualified to operate the Alcotest or breathalyzer machine. If it can be proven that the officer in charge was not qualified to administer the breath test, the BAC results could be thrown out as being invalid, in which case the judge may have to dismiss the DWI charges altogether.

Another approach to gaining a conviction by the prosecutor in the case involves statements or testimony from so-called eye witnesses that implicate the defendant as being drunk or impaired by alcohol or drugs at the time of the traffic stop. These statements make take the form of observations that accuse the motorist of weaving in and out of his or her lane. However, based on the specific circumstances, these kinds of observational evidence have been successfully challenged in the past.

Finally, while it may seem that the standardized field sobriety tests conducted at many DWI traffic stops and drunken driving roadblocks are official and fool proof, as experienced DWI defense attorneys, we know that being able to walk a straight line or recite the alphabet correctly are statistically accurate in determining a person’s level of inebriation about 65- to 75-percent of the time. The good news is that these tests are rarely sufficient in and of themselves to lock in a conviction.

Of course, every case is unique, but there are defenses to many situations where the evidence might appear to be solid for the state. The only way to truly know the potential for a conviction or acquittal is to consult with an experienced DWI attorney.