New Jersey Court Discusses Reasonable Suspicion in DWI Cases

When some people are stopped by the police due to suspicion of DWI, they may be tempted to avoid exiting their vehicles, under the mistaken belief that they can avoid a DWI charge by refusing to submit to field sobriety testing. However, as demonstrated in a recent case ruled on by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, an officer’s observations of a person in a vehicle may be sufficient for there to be reasonable suspicion that the person is guilty of DWI. If you are charged with a DWI crime in New Jersey, it is sensible to meet with a New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss your potential defenses.

Factual Background

It is reported that a police officer observed the defendant making a turn into the wrong lane of traffic. He pulled the defendant over, at which time he noticed a strong smell of alcohol emanating from her car, and that her eyes were bloodshot and watery. The officer asked the defendant to exit the vehicle to perform field sobriety testing and she refused. Two other officers responded to the scene, and each independently requested the defendant to exit the vehicle to submit to field sobriety testing, and she once again refused. She was ultimately arrested for obstructing the administration of the law and transported to the police station.

Allegedly, while at the police station, the defendant submitted to a breath test that revealed her blood alcohol content to be 0.91%. She was charged with DWI, reckless driving, and obstructing the administration of the law. She was found guilty of all charges and appealed, arguing in part that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to order her out of her car or probable cause to arrest her.

Reasonable Suspicion of DUI Under New Jersey Law

Under New Jersey law, the police officer does not need a warrant to conduct an investigatory traffic stop if he or she reasonably suspects that the defendant committed a traffic violation. The reasonable suspicion must be based on the officer’s assessment of the entirety of the circumstances he or she faces. The observations, when considered in view of the officer’s experience and training, must be sufficient to warrant an intrusion onto a person’s privacy.

Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than the probable cause needed to warrant an arrest and may exist even if there is an innocent explanation for the facts the officer observed. When an officer is conducting an investigatory stop, he or she may require a driver to submit to field sobriety testing if the officer reasonably suspects the person has committed the crime of DWI.

In the subject case, the court found that there were sufficient grounds, namely the smell of alcohol and the defendant’s behavior, for the officer to have a reasonable suspicion that the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Discuss Your Charges with a Capable New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

If you are faced with charges of a New Jersey DWI crime, it is in your best interest to meet with a New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss the State’s evidence against you. The capable attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall will zealously advocate on your behalf to help you seek the best result available in your case. You can reach us through our online form or at 877-450-8301 to set up a conference.