New Jersey Court Discusses What Constitutes Operation of a Vehicle in DWI Cases

While most DWI charges arise out of traffic stops effectuated due to a traffic violation, under New Jersey law, a person may be charged with a DWI even if they are not actually observed driving a vehicle. Instead, the State must prove that a defendant charged with a DWI was operating a vehicle at the time of his or her arrest. As demonstrated in a recent case in which the defendant was convicted of a DWI despite the fact that he was sleeping in his car prior to his arrest, operation is broadly defined and is not limited to driving. If you are charged with a DWI offense, it is advisable to consult a trusted New Jersey DWI defense attorney to examine the evidence that the State may try to introduce to prove your guilt.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, a police officer noticed a truck parked in a restaurant parking lot early in the morning. The restaurant was not open at the time, and there were no other cars in the lot. The officer approached the truck, which was running, and observed the defendant sleeping in the driver’s seat, with an empty beer can in the center console. Upon questioning by the officer, the defendant, who smelled of alcohol and had slurred speech, stated that he had consumed a few beers at a casino in Atlantic City and then dropped off a friend.

The defendant failed a field sobriety test, after which he was arrested and transported to the police station. A breath test conducted at the police station revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol level to be .17%. The defendant was charged with and convicted of DWI. The defendant then appealed, averring that there was insufficient evidence to show that he was operating his truck while he was impaired by alcohol.

What Constitutes Operation of a Vehicle Under New Jersey Law?

Under New Jersey law, anyone who operates a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or with a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher is guilty of DWI. The New Jersey courts have broadly interpreted the term “operate,” finding that an actual observation of a defendant driving constitutes operation, as does an observation of a defendant in or around a vehicle that indicates that he or she has been driving, or an admission by the defendant. Furthermore, circumstantial evidence is adequate to show that a defendant was operating a vehicle.

In the subject case, the court found that the evidence of record was sufficient to prove that the defendant was in operation of his vehicle. The court noted that there were no other parties in the vehicle that could have driven, the engine of the vehicle was running, and the defendant was asleep in the driver’s seat. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Speak with a Capable DWI Defense Attorney

If you are faced with a DWI charge, it is wise to speak with a capable New Jersey DWI defense attorney to assess the steps that you can take to fight to retain your liberties. The proficient attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall have the skills and experience needed to help you strive for a successful outcome. We can be contacted through our form online or at 877-450-8301 to set up a conference.