In New Jersey, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is considered to be a traffic offense and is prosecuted in Municipal Court. Intoxication may be the result of alcohol or another chemical substance (e.g., marijuana) or both. While not considered to be a crime in New Jersey, DWI is taken seriously and severe penalties can be imposed. Driving While Intoxicated can be proven by evidence of a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater and/or by signs and symptoms of physical impairment (i.e. stumbling, slurred speech, poor driving, and/or poor perfomance on field sobriety tests). DWI can be proven without physical signs of impairment if the BAC is over the legal limit and can also be proven with a BAC reading if there are clear physical signs of impairment present. DWI can also be based on impairment by marijuana or other substances besides alcohol, as well as alcohol in combination with other substances.
In New Jersey, there are many arrests made daily for intoxicated driving. Those arrested are often people like you and me: law-abiding citizens. At the Law Office of Brad E. Mazarin, I work hard to help you beat a DWI charge or to, at a minimum, get the best possible result. Contact my office at 917-450-7078 to learn more about how I can help you. In the meantime, here are some of the most commonly asked questions I get from my clients when I first meet them about their intoxicated driving charge.
What is “blood alcohol content” level?
Blood alcohol content (BAC) is a measurement of the amount of alcohol found in the blood expressed as a percentage. It is calculated in grams per 210 liters of breath, and a BAC of 0.08 means there is 0.08% alcohol by volume. Measuring BAC is a way for law enforcement to calculate the amount of alcohol someone has had and their ability to drive a motor vehicle.
What are my rights during DWI traffic stops?
If you are pulled over due to suspicion of drunk driving or pulled over for a traffic stop and then the police officer suspects intoxicated driving, you should remember you have certain rights as a U.S. citizen. Namely,
- The driver and any passengers have the right to remain silent (except you must show the police your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance upon request).
If you are arrested or detained, you have additional rights, including Miranda warnings.
- You can say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately.
- You have the right to make a local phone call.
If you believe your rights were violated in any way, try to write down everything you remember, including the police officer's agency (state police, county police, etc.), badge number, and patrol car number.
Can I refuse a chemical test in New Jersey?
Refusing a chemical test in New Jersey is generally a bad idea. The chemical test is the test given by the police in New Jersey after you have been arrested.
In New Jersey, refusing a chemical test is a separate offense carrying most of the same consequences as a DWI charge. For this reason, I do not advise people who have been arrested in New Jersey to refuse this test. However, in certain instances, such as a third DWI charge or an accident involving serious injury or death, it may be advisable to refuse the test. If you refuse to take the chemical (breath) test in New Jersey, you will face certain consequences which may include:
- Loss of license
- Required installation of an Ignition Interlock Device
- A fine and possible jail time
- Use of the refusal as evidence of guilt in your DWI Trial
In addition, in certain circumstances the officer may be able to obtain a warrant to draw blood for a blood test.
What are standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs)?
Standardized field sobriety tests (FSTs) are tests approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These tests are allegedly designed to help police determine whether a driver is intoxicated or not.
There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST's):
- the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN test)
- the One-Leg Stand Test (OLS test)
- the Walk-and-Turn Test
The results of these tests may be used as evidence against you in an intoxicated driving case. Non-standardized tests, on the other hand, are not validated by NHTSA and are typically not admissible as evidence.
Non-standardized FSTs include:
- finger to nose test
- the finger count test
- the hand pat test
- the alphabet test
- the reverse counting test
- the coin pickup test
Can I refuse field sobriety tests in New Jersey?
You can refuse FST's in New Jersey. However, the refusal to take these tests can be used against you in your DWI trial. The problem with SFST's is that they are entirely subjective and designed for failure. Most people fail these tests, even when they are sober. Since the tests are administered at roadside and are usually recorded on video, a really poor performance on an SFST will likely destroy any chance of success at trial. The downside of refusing to perform field sobriety tests is that you will almost certainly be arrested. In spite of this fact, it may be a good idea to decline the One Leg Stand and the Walk and Turn Test unless you are confident that you can perform them successfully.
After a DWI arrest in New Jersey, will my driver's license be suspended or revoked?
New Jersey, unlike many states including New York, does not immediately suspend licenses after a DWI arrest. New Jersey, may, depending on the existence of prior convictions as well as the BAC reading, suspend your license after a conviction. However, for many first convictions in New Jersey, you will not lose your driving privilege once you install an Ignition Interlock Device in your car. New Jersey is now requiring installation of these devices for at least three months after a DWI conviction.
What happens after a drunk driving arrest in New Jersey?
After a DWI arrest, you will be released with one or more summonses and given a date to go to court. In Municipal Court, most appearances, but not hearings and trials, are being conducted remotely. Your car can be released to a friend or family member or you can go back to retrieve your car after at least twelve hours have passed.
Can I still get auto insurance in New Jersey after a drunk driving conviction?
This is a complicated question. After a first DWI conviction, you will likely still be able to obtain car insurance. Even after a second conviction, auto insurance may still be obtainable. The bottom line is that car insurance will be more difficult to get and will cost more after a DWI conviction.
Can I beat a drunk driving charge in New Jersey?
It is possible, but not easy, to win a DWI trial. The evidence in DWI cases is complex and requires a lawyer to work hard to understand the science involved. DWI defense is a highly technical field, and is not an area of the law in which a lawyer can expect to successfully dabble in.
A skilled DWI defense lawyers can often spot mistakes made by the police which can lead to viable defenses at trial. You should ask any lawyer you are considering retaining whether they have been trained in the administration of Field Sobriety Tests and whether they keep up with the science. One indication of a lawyer who is serious about DWI defense is membership in the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) or other criminal defense organizations.
In addition to looking for technical mistakes related to FST's and or Breath testing, a lawyer who is paying attention can often find constitutional violations. If the police violate your constitutional rights,the fruits of an illegal search and/or illegal arrest may be suppress. If evidence of intoxication, such as test results, video, statements, or observations are suppressed, the State may not have a viable case to prosecute. This can lead to a dismissal of a DWI case.
You will need a well trained and skilled DWI defense lawyer to help you beat an drunk driving charge.
Can I just plead guilty to drunk driving?
Just pleading guilty is a mistake. Generally, a Municipal Court Judge in New Jersey will not even want you to plead guilty in a DWI case since the consequences of a DWI conviction can be quite severe. If you can afford to hire a lawyer, it makes sense to do so if you have been charged with a DWI. Even though the plea bargaining of DWI cases in New Jersey is not permitted, your lawyer can, at a minimum, get some of your other companion summonses dismissed and negotiate reduced penalties. If you cannot afford a lawyer, a Municipal Court Judge will consider appointing the Public Defender to represent you. The reason for this is that New Jersey considers DWI to be an offense with "consequences of magnitude."
The bottom line is that DWI is simply too serious a charge to consider representing yourself and "just pleading guilty to get it over with" is a terrible idea.
Do I need a drunk driving lawyer in New Jersey to win my DWI case?
If you plan to fight your drunk driving charges, it is in your best interest to have an attorney represent you. The law is complex and the evidence in DWI cases is highly technical and scientific. The police officers who make these arrests are usually highly skilled and good at testifying in court. Fighting DWI cases is challenging even for well trained and experienced DWI defense lawyers. Fighting a DWI charge by yourself, or hiring an inexperienced lawyer who lacks training in this area of the law, will almost always lead to a poor outcome.
As a lawyer who is committed to defending citizens charged with DWI, I make a serious effort to understand this complex and challenging area of the law. I regularly study the law and science of Criminal and DWI defense and frequently attend Continuing Legal Education classes in these areas. Contact my office today at 917-450-7078 to schedule a free consultation and get honest advice on your best legal options.