Court Discusses Operation of Vehicles in New Jersey DWI Cases

One of the key elements of a New Jersey DWI charge is the operation of a vehicle. If the State is unable to prove this element, a person charged with DWI should not be convicted. The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, recently re-affirmed, however, that operation is not limited to actually driving a vehicle, and a defendant can be found to be operating a vehicle even if the vehicle was in park at the time of the police’s investigation into the matter. If you are charged with DWI, even though you did not drive a vehicle while intoxicated, you should consult a proficient New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss what defenses you may be able to assert.

Factual Background

It is reported that a police officer observed the defendant sleeping in the driver’s seat of a car that was parked in the lot of a convenience store. The car was parked properly, but the engine was running. The officer attempted to wake the defendant many times before he finally awoke. When the defendant opened his window, he smelled of alcohol. It took him several attempts to turn off his vehicle, and his conversation with the officer was incoherent.

It is alleged that the officer performed field sobriety tests on the defendant, which the defendant failed. He was subsequently arrested and charged with DWI and reckless driving. He was convicted of DWI, second offense. He then appealed, arguing that the State failed to prove he operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

Evidence Sufficient to Show Operation of a Vehicle

Under New Jersey law, a person is guilty of driving while intoxicated if he or she operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor, or if he or she operates a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. The New Jersey courts have interpreted the term operate broadly. In other words, an officer does not need to observe a defendant driving for the defendant to be convicted of DWI. Instead, the operating condition of the vehicle, along with the defendant’s place behind the steering wheel, allows for the logical conclusion that the defendant intended to drive.

Further, New Jersey case law has established that a person operates a vehicle under the influence of alcohol when the person enters a vehicle in a place intended for public use, turns on the vehicle and remains in the driver’s seat with the intent to move the vehicle while in an intoxicated condition. In the subject case, the court found that there was ample evidence to establish that the defendant was operating his vehicle, as the term is defined by New Jersey law, while he was intoxicated. As such, the court affirmed his conviction.

Speak with an Experienced New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a DWI crime in New Jersey, it is sensible to speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI attorney regarding measures that may be available to protect your rights. The assertive attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall will craft effective arguments in your favor to assist you in seeking a just result. You can contact us at 877-450-8301 or via the form online to set up a conference.