Anyone who has read about drunk driving police stops will certainly be familiar with typical stories of New Jersey residents arrested for being intoxicated while sitting in their parked vehicles. Well, DWI stories like these may become history if a recent New Jersey appeals court decision is any indication.
The ruling, which came down on Tuesday, May 26, essentially said that being drunk in the driver’s seat of your parked car, even if the engine is running and the parking brake is disengaged, cannot be grounds in and of itself for a DWI conviction — there must be proof of intention to drive.
In this case, being asleep was the key to the defense’s argument. According to the New Jersey Law Journal, in State v. Putz, the Appellate Division said the trial court ignored credible evidence that the defendant, Joshua Putz, a Phillipsburg resident who was found asleep in his idling pick-up truck after midnight by a Lopatcong Township police officer, had no intent to move the vehicle prior to falling asleep.
According to court records, the defendant was in such a complete stupor at 2:00 a.m. on March 8 when he was arrested that he could not have had any intent to drive — this was backed up by other corroborating witnesses, which no doubt helped his appeal.
The defense argued that the prosecution’s original conclusion that defendant intended to move the vehicle could not have been made based on conditions at the moment of Putz’s arrest. In fact, the prosecution’s case could only have been based on the defendant’s “intent” prior to falling asleep, which in this case was not to drive the vehicle.
The municipal court judge apparently found the original arguments incredible and convicted Putz, suspending his license for seven months and levying $665 in fines and penalties. The Law Division, on de novo review, came to the same result.
But the appeals court justices found merit the defense’s argument and were apparently troubled by the lower court’s original determination. The unpublished ruling in Putz’s favor breaks with the New Jersey courts’ typical strict tendency to uphold drunken driving convictions based on observational evidence of any form of operation of a vehicle. This is seemingly good news for those who decide to “sleep it off” in their car, with no intention to drive the vehicle.
As a New Jersey DWI Attorney, I have defended numerous drunk driving cases. If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated, I highly recommend that you retain an experienced legal professional to handle your case. As evidenced here, no case is ever hopeless. Contact us today at 877-450-8301 for a free initial consultation.
Drunken Idling Is No Offense, Says Appeals Court, Law.com, May 28, 2009