New Jersey Court Discusses Reasonable Suspicion in DWI Cases

Under New Jersey law, prior to conducting field sobriety tests on a person, the police must have reasonable suspicion that the person is intoxicated. Odtherwise, the results of the field sobriety tests may be inadmissible. There is no single fact that constitutes sufficient grounds to reasonable suspicion, however, and in some instances, numerous factors that in and of themselves are insufficient to raise suspicion may combine to justify a DWI investigation, as shown in a recent case arising out of New Jersey. If you are charged with committing a DWI offense in New Jersey, and you believe the police did not have sufficient grounds to conduct an investigation, it is prudent to confer with a trusted New Jersey DWI defense attorney regarding your rights.

Factual Background

Allegedly, a police officer observed the defendant making an illegal left hand turn into the parking lot of a drug store, after which the officer stopped the defendant. When he approached the car, the officer noticed an odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle but believed it may be coming from one of the passengers. The defendant denied drinking, but the officer administered a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test on the defendant regardless, while the defendant was seated in the driver’s seat. The officer observed a lack of smooth pursuit during the test, after which he asked the defendant to exit the vehicle. The defendant then submitted to field sobriety testing.

It is reported that the defendant was ultimately arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. He filed a motion to suppress the result of his field sobriety tests, which the court denied. The defendant then entered a conditional guilty plea and appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.

Reasonable Suspicion to Further a Drunk Driving Investigation

The defendant argued on appeal that the officer did not have adequate grounds to order the defendant from his vehicle and that the officer should not be permitted to rely on an improperly performed HGN test to develop reasonable suspicion to order the defendant from his vehicle. Under New Jersey law, an officer that stops a vehicle must have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the driver or a passenger of the vehicle committed a crime or a traffic violation. After the stop, it is constitutionally permissible to ask the driver to exit the vehicle.

Further, even if an initial stop is due to a traffic violation, an officer may broaden his or her investigation if he or she has suspicion that a crime other than a traffic offense was committed. To evaluate whether the basis for a stop or arrest is sufficient, the court must weigh the totality of the information available to the officer at the time of the stop. In the subject case, the court noted that the evidence, taken as a whole, presented adequate grounds for the officer to have reasonable suspicion the defendant was intoxicated. Further, the court clarified that while the improperly performed HGN test may not have been sufficient to convict the defendant, it did not mean it could not provide a basis for conducting further tests. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with a Knowledgeable New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a DWI crime in  New Jersey, you should meet with a knowledgeable New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses. The dedicated New Jersey DWI defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall possess the knowledge and experience needed to help you seek the best result available under the facts of your case, and we will zealously advocate on your behalf. You can reach us through our form online or at 877-450-8301 to set up a meeting.


Contact Information