Accused of Drugged Driving in New Jersey? It’s just as Serious as a DWI Offense

Although being charged with drinking while intoxicated by alcohol is a very serious traffic offense, there are other activities that can get Garden State motorists in hot water rather quickly as well. The term impaired driving is often used as a catch-all for any number of offenses, such as DWI and DUI, but with the advent of cell phones, smartphones and even iPads and other portable tablets, being distracted while driving may soon be just another version of being impaired.

When it comes to the more traditional forms of impaired driving, the drug-related kind (or drug DUI) combines not only the charge of being impaired behind the wheel, but also the use and/or possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). Overall, it goes without saying that driving under the influence of drugs is at least on a par with DWI in the eyes of traffic enforcement officers.

By law, specifically N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a), any individual can be arrested for operating a motor vehicle while impaired by a hallucinogenic, narcotic or habit producing drug. Proof of impairment or intoxication due to CDS use is generally provided in the form of an expert opinion, however this requirement is currently relaxed during the ongoing appeals process in our state’s judicial system.

Many people who have been accused of drug DUI are concerned about the term, “under the influence” and what it actually refers to in a legal sense. In short, the meaning of DUI has been generally defined as a substantial deterioration/diminution of a driver’s mental faculties and/or physical capabilities due to intoxicating liquor, or a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug. As well, DUI also can refer to the condition of a motorist in that a drug may have affected that person’s judgment or control of his car or truck so as to make it improper to drive that vehicle on a roadway.

While a driver must actually commit a driving infraction or other moving violation in order for a police stop to be valid in a court of law, it is no secret that municipal patrolmen and state troopers keep an eye out for motorists who demonstrate signs of alcohol or drug-related impairment. For instance, a common reason given for many traffic stops can be the rather broad observation that a driver failed to maintain his or her lane, or that the motorist was driving at an unusually slow pace.

Whatever the reason given for the initial traffic stop, the face-to-face questioning of a driver is the most likely way that an officer will suspect DWI or drug DUI. But even with the observations of an officer — for example, if the motorist exhibits bloodshot or “glassy” eyes, drooping lids, or so-called disrupted fine-motor skills — those physical symptoms can be rooted in other non-impairment-related causes, such as a medical condition or other physical factors.

If arrested on suspicion of drug DUI, the administration of a breathlyzer or Alcotest device will not typically provide much useful evidence for the prosecution, unless the drugs were ingested along with beer, wine or hard liquor. Instead, the state will likely need the results of a direct blood or urine test to demonstrate the drug(s) possible existence in the defendant’s body at the time of the arrest.

When deciding whether or not a defendant is guilty of drug DUI, the court may rely on a couple kinds of proof, that is, either through the testimony of an expert witness (such as a drug recognition expert, or DRE) or by taking into account all of the physical evidence, plus any specific test results that may be available.

For those unfamiliar with DUI cases, a DRE is a police officer who has received special training in the area of identifying impairment by drugs or other controlled dangerous substances. This training is very involved and includes schooling in seven separate categories of drug impairment and recognition. These include: 1) depressant effects on the central nervous system, 2) stimulant effects on the central nervous system, 3) inhalants, 4) dissociative anesthetics, 5) pot or cannabis, 6) hallucinogenic compounds, and 7) narcotic analgesics.

Because DRE training can be complicated, there are not as many experts in the area of drug recognition as there are officers who arrest drivers for DWI-DUI. As such, many Garden State police departments do not actually have a DRE on staff, much less have a DRE available for each shift across an entire day.

As New Jersey drug DUI defense lawyers, we know from first-hand experience that CDS-involved DUI cases have a tendency to be complicated. The good news, in many instances, is that the complicated nature of drug DUI cases opens up the opportunity for numerous defense strategies. This is why we often recommend that anyone accused of drug DUI contact a qualified DWI-DUI defense attorney to learn more about his or her options under the law.