Intoxication Can Affect a Driver’s Awareness, Cause a Driving Error, and Trigger a Police Stop

We’ve discussed this in previous posts, but it bears repeating once again: The police do not have the legal right to stop a motorist simply because an officer assumes or guesses that the individual behind the wheel is possibly intoxicated. This goes back to the basic New Jersey DWI statutes, which state that a law enforcement officer must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a driver has committed a moving violation or other vehicle infraction in order to make a traffic stop.

As New Jersey DWI defense lawyers, my legal team has a great deal of experience in this area. Quite often, motorists contact my firm with the intention of fighting a drunk driving summons or charges related to some other alcohol or drug-related traffic offense. As part of our investigation, we research the facts of the case in order to determine if there were any basic procedural violations on the patrolman’s part. More than once we have found that an officer has made erroneous assumptions about the defendant or his driving style, which then led to a faulty or improper police stop and DWI arrest.

If it can be shown that the officer acted improperly or based the initial traffic stop on less-than-appropriate grounds, there is a good chance that the court will entertain a motion to have the drunk driving charge dismissed or the charges reduced. Unfortunately, many proper police stops come about due to a motorist’s own driving error, which if observed by a municipal cop or state trooper, may result in a roadside stop. If alcohol is involved, there is high likelihood that a summons for driving under the influence will be issued.

One of the things that can get a driver in trouble is a lack of awareness of the traffic conditions around his or her vehicle. Considering the severe, potentially crippling financial consequences that can result from a DWI or drug DUI conviction, it only makes sense that anyone who may have had some amount of alcohol prior to driving should be aware of the risks involved in getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Even a driver who is not legally drunk can experience a reduced capability when driving a car or truck.

Simply being unaware of the simplest things when operating an automobile, such as having working headlights and taillights, can open the door to a routine traffic stop that may result in a less-than-routine arrest for DWI-DUI. Take an incident that occurred last March in Mount Olive, NJ. According to news reports, a motorist from Budd Lake was stopped early on a Saturday morning after an local police officer noticed a vehicle driving down Rte 206 with a burned out vehicle lamp. While there was no indication that this was a head or tail lamp, even a faulty turn signal bulb can trigger a stop.

Based on reports, the 29-year-old driver was charged with DWI, as well as reckless driving. The man also refused to take a breath test, for which an additional charge was levied. The police officer in charge reportedly stated that the driver appeared to be drunk. When the officer requested the man to complete several of the standardized field sobriety tests, he apparently failed one or more and the officer made the arrest. He was taken into custody and later released pending a court hearing.

Driver arrested on DWI charge, passenger on outstanding warrant; NJHerald.com; March 14, 2014