Being drunk and acting drunk can be two different things. As New Jersey trial lawyers and specialists in defending motorists accused of driving while intoxicated, I and my staff of experienced attorneys understand the law and how it may apply to individuals who have been charged with DWI or drug DUI. One thing that is quite often used against individuals who are charged with a DWI-DUI offense is the observations of the arresting police officer regarding the suspect’s physical appearance or actions. Again, this entails a judgment based on whether or not a driver looks or acts inebriated.
The fact is, there can often times by an innocent explanation for the oft-cited symptoms of intoxication, and these can sometimes be pointed to as counter arguments against the prosecution’s evidence pertaining to the arresting officer’s claim that he observed certain “objective” symptoms of intoxication in the drunk driving suspect.
What police officers quite often list as telltale signs of drunkenness can include bloodshot and/or watery eyes, a certain degree of slurred speech, a flushed appearance to the motorist’s face, and even a so-called unsteady gait when walking outside of his or her car. But it should be remembered that there are, in fact, non-alcohol-related causes for many of these so-called objective observations.
Having defended hundreds of drivers charged with DWI or drug DUI, my colleagues and I know that there are reasonable and understandable explanations for many of the observations made by patrolmen during a roadside DWI stop. For example, simple fatigue, allergic reactions to pollen and dust, not to mention basic eye strain can and do result quite often in bloodshot eyes.
In terms of flushed facial appearance, this can sometimes be the result of extreme nervousness or embarrassment, and occasionally even anger regarding being pulled over by a police officer for what may seem to have been a minor vehicle equipment problem can traffic offense. Furthermore, a feeling of intimidation or simply being agitated by a roadside stop can result in a motorist exhibiting what sounds like slurred speech.
Regardless of whether an officer is open to any of these aforementioned explanations, there are certain behaviors that may present more of a challenge to a drunken driving defense. A couple news articles we ran across earlier point out the kinds of difficult situations in which some motorists can find themselves. For example, consider the case of a New Jersey driver who was found by police lying in the roadway next to his vehicle, or the out-of-state motorist who allegedly fell asleep in the drive-through lane at a McDonald’s hamburger restaurant.
In the first instance, police reports indicated that officers came upon a 42-year-old man from Monmouth Junction, NJ, who authorities stated was most likely involved in a hit-and-run accident just minutes earlier. According to news reports, the hit-and-run traffic accident had occurred along a stretch of Rte 1, after which police apparently began looking for one of the vehicles involved. Based on the news article, officers found a Dodge pickup truck off to the side of the highway with the alleged driver outdie of the vehicle and in a reportedly drunken state.
The patrolman in charge stated that the man had pulled off the road and then stepped out of the truck because, police said, he was intoxicated. Unable to perform any field sobriety tests, the driver was taken to a local hospital and subsequently charged with multiple traffic offenses including DWI.
In the second incident, a 25-year-old man from New York City was allegedly found sleeping in a Chrysler minivan that was idling in the drive-through lane at a McDonald’s fast food restaurant along Rte 1 in Middlesex County, NJ. Police were called by restaurant staff after they noticed the man’s vehicle was apparently not moving through the line for several minutes.
After police arrived, they attempted to wake the driver. Once roused, the man was asked to place the vehicle in park, however he allegedly stepped on the accelerator pedal. The officer in charge reportedly reached into the vehicle and shifted the transmission into park, after which he arrested the driver for DWI on the basis of the motorist having what police said was the odor of alcohol on his breath and slurred speech. Police also stated that the man failed a number of field sobriety tests.
Driver charged with DWI after cops finding him lying in the road next to his truck, NJ.com, September 7, 2013
NY man arrested for DWI after he falls asleep in car at McDonald’s drive-thru, NJ.com, September 6, 2013