Understanding how the police and court system approaches drunk driving offenders is the first step in preparing yourself for a possible DWI arrest in the future. Of course, no one wants to be charged with driving while intoxicated and most people are usually unprepared when it does happen. But being taken into custody for driving under the influence is the beginning of a protracted extended process.
As a New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyer and former municipal prosecutor, I believe knowledge is power. Below are some additional pieces of information that go along with a previous entry elsewhere in this blog. My hope is this may help some drivers when if and when they are pulled over for DWI, drug DUI or marijuana possession in a vehicle.
When it comes to drunk driving, a police officer may suspect that you have been operating your car or truck while impaired. One way for the patrolman to make a decision on whether to take you to police headquarters for a breath test is the use of several standardized field sobriety tests.
Field sobriety tests are one of the main tools of law enforcement and can be used as one of many pieces of evidence to prove that you were, in fact, under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs at the time of the arrest. These tests typically involve three separate tests:
1) The walk-and-turn test 2) The one leg stand test 3) The horizontal gaze nystagmus
This last one is something many people have seen in the movies and on TV where the patrolman asks the subject to follow a light or a finger with his eyes from one side to the other.
In addition to these tests, the officer will be watching and noting nearly every thing you say or do during the traffic stop, all of which may be used in court as evidence to gain a DWI or drug DUI conviction. Even how you get out of your car can be noted and used against you by the prosecutor’s office.
Some people wonder how a policeman knew they were drunk, but little cues such as leaning up against the car for support or appearing limp or otherwise unsure of your footing can tip off an officer. In the end, you will want to consult with a lawyer regarding the legality of any tests and whether they were administered in the proper manner.
Finally, and most importantly, should you submit to a breathalyzer, or Alcotest test? In New Jersey drivers simply do not have the right to refuse a breath or other type of chemical test that police use to measure blood-alcohol content.
New Jersey’s implied consent law means that as a condition of being granted a driver’s license, every driver has essentially given his or her OK to take breathalyzer or chemical test following a DWI arrest. It’s important to remember that the police cannot randomly request a driver to take a breathalyzer without first having probable cause that the motorist is intoxicated.
If you do refuse a breathalyzer, you can be charged with breath test refusal, an offense completely separate from the charge of drunken driving, or DWI. If you refuse and are found guilty of that charge, any fines will be in addition to those of the potential drunk driving conviction.
One last note: It is important to understand that motorists do not have the right to have counsel at their side while a breathalyzer or other chemical test is administered. Similarly, the police are not obliged to wait for your DWI defense lawyer to arrive at the station or hospital before administering any of these tests.