New Jersey Court Clarifies Operation for Purposes of DWI Statute

An issue commonly disputed in New Jersey DWI cases is whether the State has sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant was operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Due to several recent unpublished opinions set forth by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, the court set forth a published opinion in which it clarified in explicit terms what constitutes operation for the purposes of a DWI conviction. If you reside in New Jersey and are faced with DWI charges it is prudent to confer with a vigilant New Jersey DWI defense attorney to assess what options you may exercise to protect your rights.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

It is alleged that the police were called to a grocery store parking lot to investigate the defendant, who was sleeping in his car with the engine running. The officer awoke the defendant, who smelled like alcohol and advised that he had been sleeping for about half an hour. The officer also observed several prescription pill bottles on the passenger seat. The defendant agreed to submit to numerous field sobriety tests, all of which he failed. As such, he was arrested and charged with DWI and refusing to submit to a breath test. Following a trial, he was convicted on both charges. He then appealed, arguing that the State could not prove he was operating his vehicle at the time of his arrest.

Operating a Vehicle Under the New Jersey DWI Statute

On appeal, the court noted that while a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) is usually referred to as a DWI, the statute does not actually mention driving as an element of the crime that must be proven in order to obtain a conviction. Rather, the statute merely prohibits a person from operating a vehicle while under the influence. The court noted that operation has been broadly interpreted and includes more than just driving. In other words, it includes sleeping or sitting in a car with the engine running, even if the car is not moving.

Further, operation can be found in cases in which the evidence demonstrates that the defendant intended to operate the vehicle. As such, a defendant can be found guilty of DWI for sleeping in his or her car with the engine running, or trying to move a car without the engine running. In other words, any observation of the defendant in or out of a vehicle that indicates the defendant had been driving while intoxicated is sufficient to obtain a DWI conviction. The court explained that even if a vehicle is not actually moving, it is the possibility of motion that is relevant for purposes of a DWI charge. Thus, the court affirmed the conviction.

Confer with a Trusted New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a New Jersey DWI offense, it is in your best interest to confer with a trusted New Jersey DWI attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest and what you can do to pursue a favorable outcome. The diligent attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall will aggressively advocate in your favor. We can be reached at 877-450-8301 or through the online form to schedule a meeting.