NJ Drunk Driving Update: Before a DWI Conviction, Prosecutors Must Prove Guilt — Part 2

As we’ve previously discussed in this forum, being caught for driving drunk is a serious situation that can lead to harsh penalties and fines, not to mention potential jail time and long-term driver’s license suspension. While most motorists in the Garden State know that a DWI arrest, much less a conviction, can be fraught with troubles for the individual accused of driving while intoxicated.

I and my colleagues, as New Jersey DWI defense lawyers, know that the loss of driving privileges can, by itself, be a serious burden. Not just on an individual, but also on his or her family and friends. Of course, it’s easy to understand that someone who hasn’t been through an ordeal like a drunken driving arrest and trial might not appreciate the extensive downside to the entire experience.

Once a driver is arrested, charged and processed into the system, a pre-trial hearing date is usually set, during which the defendant will either plead guilty or not guilty. If one employs a qualified DWI attorney, then typically the pre-trial can be waved since the defendant’s lawyer will enter a plea of not guilty on the behalf of his or her client. After that, assuming a not guilty plea is entered, a new date is set for the actual drunk driving or drug DUI trial.

During trial, the State must prove to the Court that the defendant was actually operating a motor vehicle when police arrested him. Once established that the defendant was indeed at the controls of a vehicle, and that he or she intended to drive that vehicle, the prosecution can move on to the next major area of evidence, that of proving that the motorist was, in fact, legally drunk at the time.

As a preface to this next part of the legal processes, it is important to understand that under New Jersey law, intoxication (otherwise known as being under the influence) is defined as “a substantial deterioration or diminution of the mental faculties or physical capabilities of an individual” that results from the consumption or ingestion of alcohol or drugs. The establishment of “per se” intoxication from alcohol is typically gained from evidence supplied by breath or blood test results showing a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above.

The method of gaining breath test evidence is usually done through the use of a breathalyzer machine, such as the Alcotest device, which is used by many police departments throughout New Jersey. It should be noted that the Alcotest breath-testing machine is one of the newer testing devices being used in the Garden State.

If a prosecutor is not able to present credible evidence of a “per se” violation via the use of a breath-test machine or through the taking of a blood sample from the suspect, he or she may use the results of police-administered field sobriety testing. Also know in legal circles as “psycho-physical testing,” the standardized field sobriety test is a battery of physical tests usually conducted on the roadside at the scene of the traffic stop. It is instructive to note that these tests, though used quite often in DWI cases, are subject to interpretation and can indicate falsely a state of intoxication by a motorist if they are administered improperly.

Taking the preceding information into consideration, it may appear that choosing to be represented by an experienced drunk driving defense attorney would be a wise decision to make. The same goes for drivers who have been accused of drug DUI, since many DUI cases rely on evidence presented by a law enforcement officer trained and certified as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE, for short). In addition to blood and or urine tests, the testimony of a DRE can give the prosecution a fair amount of evidence to convict a driver of drug DWI.

A qualified DWI lawyer will be able to decide which types of defense is the best for the particular circumstances. Some of these include, lack of probable cause/reasonable suspicion prior to the traffic stop; an illegal or unwarranted police traffic stop; lack of probable cause to believe that the motorist in question was actually drunk at the time of the traffic stop; improperly conducted inspection, certification or maintenance of the breath-testing machine used to gain BAC evidence for trial.

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