New Jersey Court Discusses Evidence Needed to Convict a Defendant of a Drug-Related DWI

Although many people think of DWI arrests as arising out of the operation of a vehicle while intoxicated due to the consumption of alcohol, a person can be charged with a DWI for driving or operating a vehicle while under the influence of other substances that impairs his or her ability to drive safely, such as marijuana. Recently, an appellate court in New Jersey discussed what is considered adequate evidence to convict a defendant of a marijuana-related DWI offense. If you live in New Jersey and are charged with a marijuana-related DWI, it is advisable to consult a New Jersey DWI defense attorney dedicated to helping DWI defendants protect their interests.

Factual Background

It is reported that the defendant was stopped after an officer observed him drifting over the double yellow line on a highway. When the officer approached the vehicle, he reportedly smelled both raw and burnt marijuana. The defendant’s speech was slow and slurred, and he reported that he was swerving because he was trying to avoid potholes. The defendant denied smoking marijuana and stated that someone else had driven his vehicle. The officer administered field sobriety tests, which the defendant failed. The officer then searched the defendant’s vehicle and found a bag of marijuana, an e-cigarette with a marijuana concentrate cartridge, and two marijuana cigars. The defendant was arrested and charged with DWI and other related offenses. He was convicted, after which he appealed, arguing the evidence was insufficient to convict him of DWI.

Evidence Sufficient to Convict, a Defendant of a Marijuana-Related DWI Offense

On appeal, the defendant argued, in part, that the trial court erred in allowing the arresting officer to testify as an expert witness, violating his due process rights. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the State did not introduce the officer as an expert witness at trial, but that during the appeal to the Law Division it argued that the officer should be regarded as an expert due to the extent of his skills, training, and experience, and the Law Division agreed. The court noted that under New Jersey law, police officers can be qualified as experts on marijuana intoxication, due to their training. Thus, the court found that no reversible error occurred.

The court also rejected the defendant’s assertion that the officer’s testimony regarding the defendant’s intoxication constituted a net opinion and should be disregarded, finding that the officer’s opinion was based on his observations of the defendant, training, and the fact that the defendant failed his field sobriety tests. Lastly, the court found that there was ample evidence to convict the defendant, despite his argument to the contrary. The court explained that pursuant to New Jersey law, a person violates the DWI statute by operating a vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating substance, including hallucinogenics and habit producing drugs. Here, the officer observed the defendant’s demeanor and inability to pass the field sobriety tests, and the smell of marijuana, which the court deemed sufficient circumstantial evidence to find the defendant was under the influence of marijuana. Thus, the court affirmed his conviction.

Meet with a Skillful New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you are faced with drug-related New Jersey DWI charges, it is prudent to meet with a skillful New Jersey DWI attorney regarding what the State must prove to obtain a conviction and what you can do to protect your liberties. The knowledgeable attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall will work tirelessly to help you seek a successful result. You can reach us through our form online or by calling 877-450-8301 to set up a consultation.