New Jersey Court Explains Operation of a Vehicle May Be Proven Through Circumstantial Evidence in DWI Cases

Many people assume that they cannot be convicted of a DWI in New Jersey if they are not stopped by a police officer while driving under the influence of alcohol. However, this is inaccurate as shown in a recent case decided by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, in which the court held that circumstantial evidence that the defendant had been driving his vehicle while intoxicated was sufficient to support a DWI conviction. If you live in New Jersey and are faced with a DWI charge, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss the state’s burden of proof and your potential defenses.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

It is reported that the police were called to the parking lot of a convenience store around 8:00 am to check on the defendant, who was either unconscious or asleep in a parked minivan. When the officer who responded to the call approached the minivan, the defendant was in the driver’s seat, and the engine was running. The officer tapped on the defendant’s window numerous times before he woke up. When the officer spoke with the defendant, he noted the defendant was mumbling and was difficult to understand, and had an odor of alcohol.

Allegedly, the defendant submitted to field sobriety tests, which he failed, after which the defendant was arrested and charged with DWI. Subsequent chemical testing revealed the defendant’s BAC to be 0.16%. At the defendant’s trial, he stipulated to the facts regarding his intoxication but denied that he was operating the minivan at the time of his arrest. The defendant was found guilty of DWI, after which he appealed, arguing that the State failed to prove he was operating the minivan while he was intoxicated.

Circumstantial Evidence of DWI

Under New Jersey law, a person will be found guilty of driving while intoxicated if the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the person operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a mind-altering drug. The state does not have to prove the actual operation of a vehicle, however. In other words, although the operation of a vehicle may be established by actually observing a person driving the vehicle while he or she is intoxicated, it can also be shown by the defendant’s admission or proven through circumstantial evidence that indicates the defendant drove while intoxicated.

In the subject case, the trial court judge found that there was substantial circumstantial evidence to indicate that the defendant operated the vehicle while intoxicated. Specifically, there was no evidence that the defendant consumed alcohol in the parking lot or arrived in the lot by any manner other than driving. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with an Experienced New Jersey DWI Defense Attorney

While the state must prove each element of a crime, it does not need direct evidence to obtain a conviction. If you were recently charged with a DWI crime, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced New Jersey DWI defense attorney to discuss what evidence the state may introduce against you and what you can do to protect your rights. The assertive attorneys of the Law Offices of Johnathan F. Marshall will zealously pursue the most favorable result available under the facts of your case. You can reach us at 877-450-8301 or through the form online to schedule a meeting.