Toms River Legal Defense Update: High Breathalyzer Reading Not Always Precursor to NJ Drunk Driving Conviction

For argument’s sake, let’s posit that a Garden State motorist, who gets stopped for a routine traffic offense, ends up being charged with drunken driving in Ocean County. After stopping the driver for some simple infraction, such as failure to signal or improper turn, the officer might begin to suspect that the driver has possibly had something to drink and is possibly impaired by beer or wine, maybe even prescription drugs (also known as drug DUI).

In any case, the patrolman may request the motorist to perform one or more of the standardized field sobriety tests established by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). If the suspect fails one or more of these tests, there’s a pretty good chance that his or her next stop is the local police headquarters for a breathalyzer test.

As New Jersey drunken driving defense attorneys, I and my staff know that being convicted for even a first-time DWI offense can impact a person’s life, financially, personally and sometimes even professionally. Jobs have been lost, relationships ruined and reputations have been sullied as a result of an arrest for driving while intoxicated, much less for an actual conviction — if for only these reasons, is it a good idea to consult with a qualified drunk driving defense lawyer before stepping foot into a courtroom.

Assuming that individual “blew” a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content (BAC) reading on the police department’s Alcotest machine or other breathalyzer device, he or she may believe from that point on that they have no option but to plead guilty to DWI in front of a judge. That is what some people think, but they couldn’t be more wrong.

For anyone, resident or non-resident, stopped in New Jersey and charged with DWI, a summons for driving under the influence of alcohol, the first question one should ask themselves is not, “Should I plead guilty to drunken driving,” but actually, “Was I really drunk a the time?” Of course, this seems like a simple, cut and dried question; however, while one may have had something to drink, was the charge of drunken driving truly justified? Maybe yes and maybe no. But just like many aspects of the law, not every DWI arrest is clear cut.

Many of our clients feel, justly, that they have been falsely accused. Although others may have broken the law, these individuals also understand that a drunk driving conviction can carry with it severe consequences. If someone wishes to improve their chances in court, it’s helpful not to automatically assume that one “has it coming.” Thinking like that is simply the wrong approach to defending yourself against a DWI charge.

For example, many drivers caught drinking and driving believe the local prosecutor has a strong case against them simply because they blew a high BAC reading. But be aware that a 0.08 percent or higher breathalyzer test result doesn’t mean one will be convicted of drunk driving. In other words, never feel that your luck has run out simply because of a high BAC (within limits, of course).

Because there numerous factors affecting a BAC reading, every experienced drunken driving defense attorney should have a working knowledge of how breathalyzer machine functions, as well as how it should be maintained and the manner in which a patrolman should use that device to measure a motorist’s BAC.

One example would be that most people do not realize that a breath-testing machine – such as the Alcotest device — can often mistake other chemical compounds in a person’s breath as evidence of alcohol in the blood stream (we’ve already mentioned how smokers can end up with incorrect BAC readings).

In addition, burping, hiccupping or even vomiting can cause a breathalyzer to misread an individual’s BAC. This is because a breathalyzer is designed to measure the amount of alcohol coming from a person’s lungs. If one burps, hiccups or vomits prior to taking the test, any trace of alcohol in your stomach can end up in your mouth (this is sometimes referred to by experts as “mouth alcohol”). Having a quantity of mouth alcohol can certainly influence a breathalyzer to return an incorrect BAC reading.

Of course, the aforementioned is just one example of why anyone accused of DWI in New Jersey should always take the time to consult with an experienced DUI defense lawyer. The consequences (monetary penalties and otherwise) can be harsh and certainly serious enough to merit fighting for one’s day in court.