FAQ: NJ Drunk Driving Arrests and the Consequences of a DWI Conviction — Part Four

As New Jersey criminal and civil defense attorneys, my law firm understands how quickly a motorist can be put on the spot by a state trooper or municipal patrolman. The range of traffic violations is relatively extensive, but some of the more serious offenses have to do with impaired driving. Whether based on an accusation of drinking and driving, or being impaired by prescription medication or an illicit drug (also known as a controlled dangerous substance, or CDS), my law firm has represented hundreds upon hundreds of people over the years.

There is no doubt that drunk driving arrests are very much a part of police activities all across the Garden State, but that doesn’t mean that these incidents are run-of-the-mill events for those drivers who end up being caught up in them. Saying that DWIs and drug DUIs are fairly commonplace should not diminish the seriousness of the charges that accompany such arrests; and many people often fail to grasp the future consequences of their actions in this regard.

At this point, it must be said that although my legal team is dedicated to defending those individuals accused of impaired driving, we hardly condone intoxicated driving or drug-impaired vehicle operation. As motorists ourselves, the safety aspects of such activities are not lost on the members of my legal staff. Regardless, the law provides that people who have been charged with a civil offense or criminal act have the right to defend themselves in a court of law. We know that not every DWI-DUI arrest is valid, which is why we believe that our clients should have the best possible legal defense when their day in court arrives.

Because of our extensive work in drunken driving and drug DUI law, we receive a great number of questions from prospective clients after a typical police arrest. In order to fill in the blanks a little bit, we have been running an ongoing, multi-part FAQ on the possible consequences of DWI-DUI arrests and subsequent convictions. Whether a motorist is issued a summons for impaired motor vehicle operation, or arrested on charges of drug DUI or CDS possession in a vehicle, the risk of going into a courtroom unprepared can be quite high without the assistance of a skilled defense attorney to guide you.

Naturally, the best way to avoid a DUI-DWI is to not take medication or drink alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Having said that, we understand fully that circumstances can often conspire to leave a motorist unaware, or certainly unprepared, for the ill effects of such actions, as well as the legal consequences resulting from a routine traffic stop.

For those who have already received a DWI-DUI summons or been arrested for any other alcohol- or drug-related offense, it is wise to immediately contact a qualified drunk driving defense expert for advice and legal counsel. For those others who are interested in learning more about the pros and cons of a DWI arrest and possible conviction, here are a few questions and answers in our ongoing FAQ series:

Q: What does the term “sentencing enhancement” refer to?

A: Here in the Garden State, our legal statutes provide for increased fines following a conviction when a drunk driving offense occurs under one or more specific conditions. One of the more typical enhancements that drunk drivers encounter is when a charge of DWI occurs within ten years of the same or similar DWI conviction. Additional fines will often be added on to original DWI-DUI penalties when specific conditions have occurred. Some of the other sentencing enhancements include the following:

— A minor child was riding in the vehicle at the time of a drunk driving offense — The driver possessed a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and was operating a commercial vehicle at the time of the DWI-DUI offense — The defendant refused to submit to a breathalyzer test — The DWI involved either property damage or bodily injury — The defendant was less than 21 years old (refer to New Jersey’s “zero tolerance” laws for underage drivers)

Q: Since I was never read the Miranda warning during my arrest for DWI, can my drunk driving case be dismissed on a technicality?

A: While television cops shows have raised the Miranda warning to great legal heights, many laypeople might believe that the lack of a Miranda during a drunken driving arrest would be the perfect “out.” Unfortunately this is not the case. Although police officers are supposed to read suspected drunk drivers their rights under Miranda at the time of an arrest, sometimes the patrolman will forget to do so. However, this procedural omission will likely not get many individuals off of a DWI-DUI charge.

In fact, when it comes to the lack of a Miranda warning, the only real consequence is that the municipal prosecutor will not be able to use any of the suspect’s statements as evidence in court. But with other evidence, such as breathalyzer (Alcotest) or blood test results, the defendant’s statements may not be needed. It is critical to note that a more important omission would be the failure of a police officer to advise a suspected drunk driver of the state’s “implied consent” law, which pertains to the legal obligation every licensed driver has to take a chemical blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) test. The officer should advise the motorist of this law, as well as the legal implications if one should refuse to submit to a BAC test — please note that this can have a direct effect on whether or not your driver’s license will be suspended.

Q: I’m worried that hiring a lawyer could be expensive. Couldn’t I represent myself at my DWI trial?

A: Certainly. Anyone can represent themselves during their own DWI case. However, as most experienced attorneys will tell you, feeling as if you can face a judge and dispute the state’s evidence is much different than actually standing in a courtroom and defending oneself against a trained prosecuting attorney. Quite frankly, taking on one’s own defense as a layperson is more often than not a foolhardy venture. Even lawyers hire other lawyers to defend themselves because, as the old saying goes, “the lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.”

While the act of driving drunk, as well as the events leading up to a DWI arrest may seem simple enough, DWI law is actually a very complex field; not only in terms of New Jersey’s legal statutes, but also considering the variety of often complicated constitutional, procedural, evidentiary and sentencing issues that regularly crop up during every DWI or drug DUI case. What a lawyer can do is look at the all the facts pertaining to his client’s drunk driving arrest, determine where the state’s case against the defendant may be defective, and what, if any, pieces of evidence could be suppressed as evidence.

While the expense of retaining a drunk driving defense lawyer may be worrisome for many clients, the cost of losing one’s case and facing thousands of dollars in fine, fees and statutory assessments should be just as concerning; quite simply, the inconvenience of losing one’s driver’s license for months on end can be enough to justify the hiring of competent defense counsel. As part of his or her job, a skilled DWI defense lawyer can compel the discovery of such important evidence as breathalyzer calibration and maintenance records; have blood samples analyzed by an independent, third-party laboratory; and obtain expert witnesses for his client’s defense, among others.