New Jersey has some of the strictest DWI /DUI laws in the nation. While it is not technically illegal to drink and drive, driving while “intoxicated” can easily result in license suspension, substantial fines, and even jail. Prosecutors in New Jersey have been ordered not to plea bargain in DWI / DUI cases, so it is vital that you hire an experienced DWI / DUI attorney to protect your rights.
In order to be convicted of DWI / DUI in New Jersey, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you operated a motor vehicle while intoxicated. There are two methods the prosecution can use to prove you were intoxicated.
The first method is by introducing a valid blood alcohol content (BAC) reading of .08% or higher. This is typically done through the use of a breath test. While most people are familiar with the “breathalyzer” machine, State and local police in New Jersey now utilize the “Alcotest.” In the highly publicized case of State v. Chun, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the Alcotest is scientificaly reliable if properly administered.
An experienced DWI / DUI lawyer can sometimes have the results of the breath test thrown out if the defense attorney can show that the test was not properly administered. This may be possible if the police did not continously observe you for 20 minutes prior to taking your breath sample. It may also be the case that the particular machine you were tested on was not properly calibrated in the past six months or that the officer did not properly administer the test. There are other ways to beat the Alcotest as well, some which may require the use of an expert witness.
Many New Jersey DWI / DUI suspects mistakenly believe that the State cannot prove its DWI / DUI case if there is not a valid Alcotest reading. This is false. The prosecution can also prove you were intoxicated by introducing the arresting officer’s “observations.” These observations can include how poorly you performed on the Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).
The SFST is commonly used include the One-Leg-Stand, the Walk-and-Turn, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. It should be noted that the HGN test, which basically features an officer holding a penlight to your eye to check for involuntary jerks caused by alcohol, is not admissible in New Jersey courts to prove intoxication. Rather, the HGN test can only be used to show that there was probable cause to arrest you for DWI / DUI.
The arresting officer may also testify that your car, clothing and breath smelled of alcohol. The officer may also state whether you were swerving your vehicle, your speech was slurred, and whether you staggered when walking. The officer in your DWI / DUI trial can testify as to whether you properly followed his or her instructions. This may seem overwhelming, but a talented and experienced New Jersey DWI / DUI lawyer may be able to effectively cross-examine the officer as to all these points, as well as punch holes in any reports that the officer prepared in connection with your DWI / DUI arrest.
The penalties for DWI are severe. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, if you are convicted of DWI / DUI with a BAC of between .08 and .01, or you were “observed” to be intoxicated, the penalty for the first offense is a three-month loss of driver’s license, a fine of between $250 and $400, approximately $700 in additional penalties and costs, a $1,000 DMV surcharge for 3 years, 9 insurance points, and 12 to 48 hours at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center.
If your BAC was .10 or more, the above penalties are increased to a seven-month to one-year loss of driver’s license and a fine between $300 and $500. The court may also order an interlock device to be installed in your vehicle that sensors whether you have been drinking.
For a second New Jersey DWI / DUI offense, the fines are much harsher. There is a two-year loss of driver’s license. The fine is $500-$1,000. You must also serve 30 days community service and serve between 48 hours and 90 days in jail. There is an additional $1,000 DMV surcharge and approximately $700 in other fines and penalties.
For a third New Jersey DWI / DUI offense, the license suspension is ten years. The fine is $1,000 plus roughly $700 in costs and penalties. There is also a mandatory 180-day jail term. In New Jersey, you are eligible to a “step-down” in penalties if there was more than 10 years between DWI / DUI convictions.
New Jersey DWI / DUI penalties are obviously severe. Furthermore, prosecutors and judges take DWI DUI cases very seriously. If you have been arrested, charged or convicted of DWI / DUI in New Jersey, contact an experienced Monmouth County DWI / DUI lawyer for a free evaluation of your case.