New Jersey news outlets reported a while back that the Fort Lee, NJ, emergency management chief had his drunken driving charges dismissed by the court after the prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the man was, in fact, drunk behind the wheel when officers stopped his vehicle in Bergen County a year ago.
As Garden State drunk driving defense lawyers, my colleagues and I could easily point to this single instance as an example of how the police can often be either wrong in their assessment of a motorist’s state of inebriation or their failure to follow proper procedures when stopping, arresting and processing a suspected drunken driver. The bottom line is if you or someone you know has been charged with DWI, breath test refusal, or drug DUI, or other alcohol or drug-related traffic offenses, never assume the state has the upper hand.
In this particular case, 61-year-old Stephen Ferraro, who is the coordinator for Fort Lee’s Office of Emergency Management, as well as being a former police captain, was charged with DWI following a routine traffic stop in February 2013 after officers observed the man making what was described as an unsafe lane change. Because of this, and exclusive of the drunk driving accusation, Mr. Ferraro was also charged with reckless driving.
The incident in question took place when an officer observed the Fort Lee official’s vehicle needlessly brake, slow down and cross over the double yellow line a number of times along a stretch of Palisade Ave. in Cliffside Park. After stopping the suspect, the officer in charge apparently detected the smell of alcohol coming from within the vehicle, as well as from the driver’s breath. Police reports also indicated that the officer noticed the driver’s eyes being bloodshot.
The patrolman had the suspect perform several field sobriety tests, which Mr. Ferraro reportedly failed. As a result, he was taken into custody and charged with DUI, unsafe lane change, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol within 1,000 feet of a school zone. In court, the defense stated that Mr. Ferraro had, indeed, consumed alcohol during dinner prior to the traffic stop, but that he was not drunk.
The defense stated that parked cars along the path of travel necessitated his client to constantly switch lanes. Furthermore, Ferraro’s attorney argued that his client’s vehicle was affected by heavy wind and rain that particular evening. In addition, the arresting officer acknowledged that the severe weather conditions may also have affected the defendant’s ability to perform the field sobriety tests.
Another procedural error that police apparently made was the fact that, after Mr. Ferraro was taken to police headquarters and administered a breathalyzer test, there were reportedly times when he was left unattended by police officers. New Jersey DWI law specifically requires that the police continually observe a motorist for 20 minutes prior to administering a breath test to ensure that the individual does not consume or regurgitate anything that might skew the results.
In the end, although the prosecution stated that Mr. Ferraro admitted he had consumed three glasses of wine and that officers measured the defendant’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) at 0.16 percent, the state could not show beyond a reasonable doubt that the results of the breathalyzer test, as well as the field sobriety tests, were accurate. As a result, the prosecution moved to have the court dismiss the DWI charges. It should be noted here that as part of the motion for dismissal of the drunken driving-related charges, as well as the one for reckless driving, the defense had agreed to enter a guilty plea on charge of unsafe lane change.
The defendant’s guilty plea on that charge of unsafe lane change means a two-point moving violation on Mr. Ferraro’s otherwise clean driving record, according to news articles. However, those points will disappear as long as he does not commit another offense within one year.
Drunken-driving charges dismissed against Fort Lee’s emergency management chief, NorthJersey.com, December 5, 2013