As New Jersey criminal and civil defense attorneys, members of my legal team interact with law enforcement officers on a fairly regular basis. And while some people might assume that the relationship between DUI lawyers and police officers to be rather contentious, as legal professionals and officers of the court ourselves, we have the utmost respect for those hard-working municipal cops and state troopers. Yet, there are instances where the high regard with which we hold most patrolmen can become somewhat strained.
Being DWI-DUI defense lawyers, quite often we must place a police officer on the witness stand to question him or her as to the manner in which a drunk driving arrest was performed. In our experience, there can be serious questions of whether a patrolman followed correct police procedure during the stopping of a suspect’s vehicle, the carrying out of a roadside investigation, as well as the actual arresting of the accused drunken driver. Without question, there are times when officers either cut corners or omit steps in the process of putting a motorist under arrest for impaired driving.
While simple mistakes are not uncommon, especially considering the volume of DWI and drug DUI arrests made every year in the Garden State, we know most officers to be relatively well-versed in the methods and techniques of traffic enforcement. Unfortunately, there are occasional instances where an officer may overstep the bounds of his legal authority, which can open up an important avenue for a skilled defense attorney. Either way, the fact that the word of a police officer has great sway in court makes it necessary for every patrolman to conduct himself in the most professional and legally acceptable manner possible.
When we read of situations where a law enforcement official has conducted himself in a less than sterling fashion, we find ourselves dismayed by the entire event. As officers of the court and public servants sworn to uphold the laws of this state, police officers must, frankly speaking, comport themselves in a most careful manner. Getting drunk and taking to the street is hardly something that any citizen would forgive an officer of the law to do, regardless of whether or not he is on or off duty.
Unfortunately, there are instances where cops have eschewed common sense and gone ahead to break the laws that they have sworn to uphold. To our mind, this type of activity is unacceptable for anyone who holds the trust, much less the physical safety, of the general public in their hands. As with any citizen, it is hard to accept that any police officer could ignore the very laws that he is tasked to enforce on a daily basis.
According to news reports, a couple of municipal patrolmen from the Millville, NJ, area found themselves in such a situation not too long ago. Based on reports, the two cops were brought up on DWI charges stemming from an incident along Camel Rd. on September 3, when a vehicle containing Michael McLaughlin and Charles Twigg allegedly left the roadway and hit a local church building. Based on news accounts, Mr. McLaughlin was behind the wheel of the vehicle, which was owned by Mr. Twigg.
According to the county prosecutor’s office, McLaughlin and Twigg were off duty at the time of the crash, which took place around 9pm on a Wednesday evening. Police reports indicate that both of the individuals were likely not wearing their safety belts, since the two were thrown from the car as a result of the collision. McLaughlin received sufficient injuries that he was transported to Inspira Medical Center Vineland for medical treatment; Mr. Twigg declined medical help.
At the time of the news report, it was stated that both of the off-duty officers could end up being suspended, but that decision would have to wait until further investigation of the crash, as well as additional deliberation on the part of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.
Coincidentally, there was another New Jersey police officer accused recently of drinking and driving, which gives one pause considering this most recent news report out of Millville. According to articles, a Rumson officer was arrested in Red Bank on a charge of DWI charge in the middle of September. Based on reports, 37-year-old Damien Brennan, a police sergeant, was charged with being drunk behind the wheel, driving carelessly, as well as hitting a dumpster with his Chevrolet Camaro.
The accident that brought on those DWI charges took place a little after midnight in Red Bank, NJ. Officer Brennan, who was off duty at the time, was not serious injured, but was still transported to Riverview Medical Center when he complained of pain following the crash. At the time of the news report, Rumson Police officials stated that Brennan has been placed on administrative leave, though they would provide no additional details about the case.
Two Millville police officers charged with driving while intoxicated, PressOfAtlanticCity.com, October 1, 2014
Rumson cop arrested in Red Bank on DWI charge, APP.com, September 25, 2014
RED BANK: RUMSON COP CHARGED WITH DWI; RedbankGreen.com; September 25, 2014