Most DWI arrests in New Jersey arise out of a traffic stop. While some traffic stops that result in DWI arrests arise from erratic driving or suspicion of DWI, many traffic stops that ultimately result in a DWI arrest were instituted for reasons that have nothing to do with a belief the driver is intoxicated. Regardless of the reason an officer stops a driver, if a driver is charged with DWI, the state must be able to establish to the stop was based on a reasonable suspicion that the driver violated the law. Otherwise, the stop may be illegal and any evidence obtained during the stop may be precluded. In a recent New Jersey appellate opinion, the court discussed the standards for determining if a plaintiff’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop should be granted in a DWI case. If you are charged with a DWI in New Jersey it is in your best interest to speak to an assertive New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss your options to seek a successful outcome.
Facts of the Case
Allegedly, the defendant was stopped by a police officer due to the fact that the defendant’s driver’s side brake light was out. The brake light on the passenger side of the vehicle was functioning, as was the brake light mounted atop the center of the vehicle. The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with DWI. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the stop, but his motion was denied. He then pleaded guilty as charged, reserving the right to appeal, after which he appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked a lawful basis for initiating the stop. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.
Lawful Basis to Initiate a Traffic Stop
The only issue on appeal was whether the officer possessed a reasonable articulable suspicion that the defendant was in violation of a statute due to the inactive brake light at the time the officer stopped the defendant. The defendant argued that the relevant statute only required that a vehicle possess two functioning brake lights and therefore maintained that the brake lights on his vehicle at the time of his stop were sufficient. The court disagreed, finding that the plain language of the statute stated that all vehicles other than motorcycles must have at least two brake lights, one on each side of the vehicle, and must also have a high mounted center light. The court noted that the defendant stipulated that he did not have a working brake light on the left side of his vehicle. Thus, the court found the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle. Continue reading