A police officer in New Jersey may arrest you if the officer has probable cause to believe you operated a vehicle while intoxicated from drugs. This includes both legal and illegal drugs. In other words, it is illegal to operate a vehicle if your ability is impaired even if it was from the ingestion of drugs that were lawfully prescribed to you.
Typical drug-based DWI cases include narcotic and opiate intoxication. Cocaine, oxycontin, roxycodone, and heroin ingestion can all give rise to a drug DWI. While less common, marijuana intoxication can also be a basis for arresting a driver for DWI. Involuntary intoxication is not a defense to a DWI. Accidental exposure to mind or mood altering chemicals or drugs has also been held not to excuse intoxicated driving.
However, a subtle distinction exists between accidental intoxication and the ingestion of drugs that negate your intent to operate a vehicle. For example, certain drugs such as Ambien are commonly known to affect your cognitive awareness of your own actions. Since an “intent” to operate the vehicle is central to a DWI prosecution, the ingestion of a drug which negates your intent may be insufficient for the state to meet its burden that you “intended” to operate your vehicle.
Defending against a DWI arrest based on drug intoxication poses unique challenges. It is necessary in these cases to be familiar with cross-examination techniques, specific drug recognition, medical issues regarding the extraction and collection of blood and urine samples, and state laboratory procedures.
Drug-based DWI prosecutions in New Jersey are usually based on a laboratory report of a blood or urine sample, the observations of a police officer, or both. Specially trained police officers known as Drug Recognition Experts (“DRE”) are employed by most police departments for the specific task of determining what drug you may be under the influence of.
The DRE will perform a battery of tests on you, some of which mirror general field sobriety tests. Effective cross-examination of the DRE is critical in a drug DWI hearing or trial. It is important to note however that the state need not produce the testimony of a DRE in a marijuana intoxication case. Lay opinion has been held to be admissible to establish marijuana intoxication in a drug DWI case.
State police laboratory reports are also a key component of drug DWI cases. These reports have been held to be testimonial evidence. Accordingly, you have the constitutional right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses involved in taking and testing the sample in your case. You can also demand that the state prove an unbroken chain of custody of a urine or blood specimen. While in practice it may or may not be advisable to fully litigate the admission of a lab certificate into evidence, these rights are still a key tool in the DWI defense playbook.
The fact that a lab report may show the presence of drugs in your system is not enough for the state to secure a DWI conviction. Rather, the state must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those drugs caused a substantial deterioration of your mental faculties or physical coordination. However, the state need not show that you were “high” at the time of operation. DWI defendants have also been convicted while coming “down” from drugs and while exhibiting withdrawal symptoms.
If you have been arrested for a drug DWI in New Jersey, your best move is to speak with an experienced DWI defense attorney right away. Call us today at (866) 270-3441.
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