The holiday season means many great things for people in New Jersey, such as family, friends, and celebration. Since the “celebration” part of the holidays can sometimes lead to excess, police tend to step up efforts to enforce New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws on roads during the holidays. This may include the use of roadside sobriety checkpoints. New Jersey police are allowed to stop drivers at temporary checkpoint locations to inquire about alcohol consumption and look for signs of intoxication. The ability of police to do this is strictly limited, however, by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. New Jersey drivers should know their rights during sobriety checkpoint stops.

The New Jersey DWI statute defines the offense primarily as operating a motor vehicle “while under the influence” of alcohol or drugs, or with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. The state may prove this by offering evidence of a defendant’s BAC obtained from a breath sample, which all drivers in New Jersey are required to provide under law, or through other evidence indicating that a defendant was impaired at the time they were operating a vehicle. Many DWI cases begin with a traffic stop based on a police officer’s suspicion that the driver is intoxicated. The Fourth Amendment requires that this be a “reasonable suspicion,” meaning that police officers cannot pull a driver over without some clear basis for suspecting DWI. To make an arrest, police must have “probable cause” to believe an offense has occurred.

Sobriety checkpoints, which allow police to stop some or all vehicles on a particular stretch of road, clearly do not involve “reasonable suspicion,” but the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed their constitutionality. In 1990, the court held in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz that preventing DWI was a “substantial government interest,” that sobriety checkpoints “reasonably…advance that interest,” and that “the degree of intrusion upon individual motorists” is minimal. The New Jersey Appellate Division held that a sobriety checkpoint was constitutional in 1985 in State v. Kirk, and in 1989 in State v. Mazurek. The New Jersey Supreme Court reached a similar ruling in 2002’s State v. Carty.
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Prosecutors in New Jersey DWI cases have the burden of proving every element of driving while intoxicated (DWI) beyond a reasonable doubt. They must also ensure that the proceedings accord with a defendant’s due process rights. This includes a defendant’s right to understand the charges brought against them and the likely penalties that could result from a guilty verdict. New Jersey, along with many other states, has an implied consent statute that effectively requires drivers to submit to breath testing when ordered to do so by a police officer. A separate code section makes it a motor vehicle offense, punishable by a fine and driver’s license suspension, to refuse to submit to breath testing. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled in two cases that alleged due process violations because of summonses that cited the wrong code section. In both cases, State v. Dito and State v. Horton, the summonses cited the implied consent statute, rather than the section making refusal an offense.The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from depriving persons of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” One aspect of this requirement involves “fair notice” of potential criminal penalties for specific conduct. The U.S. Supreme Court has found statutes to be unconstitutional for failing to provide fair notice. In a 1964 decision, Bouie v. City of Columbia, the court held that a trespass statute did not clearly define the offense, such that the defendants knew that their conduct was illegal.

The defendants in Dito and Horton argued that New Jersey’s implied consent and refusal statutes present a similar question. The implied consent law, found in § 39:4-50.2 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes, states that anyone operating a vehicle on a public roadway in New Jersey “shall be deemed to have given his consent to the taking of samples of his breath” in DWI investigations. It does not, however, prescribe any penalty for refusing to provide a breath sample. The provisions for penalties are found in § 39:4-50.4a, which mandates driver’s license revocation and a fine.

The question presented in Dito and Horton was whether a summons for refusal that cites § 39:4-50.2 instead of § 39:4-50.4a constitutes “fair notice.” The defendant in Dito moved to dismiss the refusal charge in municipal court on this ground. The Law Division granted the motion, holding that “that the error was fatal because it failed to inform defendant of the nature of the charge against him.”

Prosecutions for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey often begin with a traffic stop. A police officer might pull a driver over based on a specific suspicion of DWI, or they might pull them over for another reason and then notice signs of possible impairment by drugs or alcohol. In either case, police must have “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful activity before initiating a traffic stop. The “reasonable suspicion” requirement is an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. New Jersey prosecutors recently tried to justify a traffic stop that led to a DWI case under the “community caretaker” doctrine, another exception to the warrant requirement, in State v. Sutherland. The New Jersey Supreme Court had previously rejected prosecutors’ reasonable suspicion argument. On remand, the Appellate Division rejected the community caretaker argument as well. This can be a complex area of law, so it may be worthwhile to reach out to a New Jersey DWI lawyer if you have questions.

Under New Jersey law, it is a traffic offense to drive “while under the influence” of drugs or alcohol. The state can prove that a defendant was legally impaired through various means, including eyewitness testimony by the arresting officers, other officers, and “drug recognition experts.” Prosecutors can also introduce evidence of blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above the “legal limit” of 0.08 percent. Defending against a DWI charge often involves challenging the state’s evidence of impairment, but it may also be possible to challenge the justification for the traffic stop itself.

Brief detentions of individuals by police, based on reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity, are often known as “Terry stops,” after the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio. Five years later, the court decided Cady v. Dombrowski, which held that police do not violate the Fourth Amendment when they find evidence of criminal activity while engaging in certain “community caretaking functions.” This refers to police activities that have no relation to “the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute.”
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A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can result in several kinds of penalties, including jail time, a fine, and suspension of one’s driver’s license. Another penalty, which is found in a separate part of state law, involves the payment of a surcharge for three years after a New Jersey DWI conviction. An agreement among multiple U.S. states regarding traffic offenses also gives New Jersey the authority to impose penalties for DWI convictions that occurred in certain other states. Earlier this year, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in Koscinski v. N.J. Motor Vehicle Comm’n on a challenge to the imposition of a surcharge in New Jersey based on a DWI conviction in Illinois.

Surcharges for DWI convictions are imposed by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) in a process that is separate from DWI prosecutions in municipal court. A first or second conviction results in a total surcharge of $3,000, payable over three years. The statute identifies this as a surcharge of $1,000 per year, but it is often payable in monthly payments of $83.33. A third conviction, if it occurs within three years of a prior conviction, results in a $4,500 surcharge, also payable over three years. Surcharges are also imposed in the same amount for refusal convictions. If a single incident results in convictions for both DWI and refusal, however, the statute states that only one surcharge will be imposed.

The Koscinski case raised the question of whether the MVC may impose a surcharge for an out-of-state conviction. New Jersey is member of the Interstate Driver License Compact (IDLC), an agreement among U.S. states to share information about traffic offenses. The IDLC also allows states to impose administrative penalties for traffic violations that occur in another member state. New Jersey law requires the MVC to “apply the penalties of the home State or of the State in which the violation occurred” in cases involving DWI and other offenses. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are members of the IDLC. New Jersey joined in 1967, while Illinois, the other state involved in Koscinski, joined in 1970.
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Defending against a charge of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey requires careful evaluation of every part of the state’s case, which is why it is often wise to retain a dedicated New Jersey DWI lawyer if you are in such a situation. The state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on every element of the offense of DWI. The job of a defendant and their counsel is to challenge the state’s evidence and legal arguments. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from conducting searches and seizures without a warrant, but the courts have identified numerous exceptions. A police officer may be able to justify a traffic stop if they can demonstrate “reasonable suspicion” of unlawful activity by the driver. In early 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the state’s reasonable suspicion argument in State v. Sutherland. The court held that the officer’s suspicion was not “objectively reasonable.” It remanded the case to the Appellate Division to resolve the state’s alternative argument that the stop was justified by the “community caretaking” doctrine.

New Jersey’s DWI statute broadly prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle “while under the influence” of alcohol or drugs. It allows the state to prove impairment by alcohol in two ways: with evidence that a defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.08 percent or higher, or with other evidence indicating impairment. The statute identifies various penalties based on factors like a defendant’s BAC and their number of prior convictions. It does not make any mention of the manner in which police come to suspect that a driver is impaired.

A police officer may briefly detain a person, such as in a traffic stop, without a warrant if they have reasonable suspicion of criminal or other unlawful activity. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this in Terry v. Ohio in 1968. The court held that an officer’s suspicion must be based on “specific reasonable inferences…in light of his experience,” and not on an “inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or ‘hunch.’” In the context of a DWI case, an officer might testify that they witnessed a defendant driving erratically. A traffic stop that leads to a DWI charge does not have to begin with an officer’s suspicion of DWI. A police officer could stop a driver for another suspected traffic violation, such as running a red light, and then discover evidence of DWI. This becomes complicated when an officer is mistaken about traffic law.
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A conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can lead to driver’s license suspension, fines and surcharges, and jail time. It can also have legal consequences beyond those established by the state’s motor vehicle laws. It is important to understand all of the ways a DWI charge or conviction can impact your life. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled on an appeal from a decision by the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) to place an individual on the state child abuse registry, partly because of an alleged DWI. The decision in DCPP v. H.V. addresses issues commonly found in DWI cases, such as blood alcohol content (BAC) and observations of outward signs of intoxication.

Under New Jersey law, DWI is a motor vehicle offense punishable by jail time, a fine, and license suspension. A first offense involving BAC of at least 0.08 percent, but less than 0.10 percent, has the least potential penalty, which may include a fine of $250 to $400 and up to thirty days in jail. A third or subsequent offense, regardless of BAC, carries the greatest possible penalty, including a $1,000 fine, a minimum term in county jail of 180 days, license suspension for ten years, and mandatory use of an ignition interlock device. Defendants may also be subject to surcharges payable to the state, based on factors like the number of prior offenses.

The H.V. case involves a case of suspected DWI that led to an investigation by the DCPP. State law defines “neglect of a child,” in part, as “failure to do…any act necessary for the child’s physical…well-being.” It requires “any person having reasonable cause to believe” that a child’s parent or guardian has committed abuse or neglect to make a report to the DCPP. Within twenty-four hours of receiving such a report, the DCPP must initiate an investigation. Within seventy-two hours, it must forward the report to the child abuse registry maintained at the division’s headquarters.
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New Jersey DWI (driving while intoxicated) and related offenses are not considered criminal offenses. Instead, they are classified as traffic offenses, meaning that the maximum penalties, while still potentially quite onerous, are generally not as severe as in many criminal cases. A case involving alleged DWI can include criminal charges when injury or death occurs, but a defendant may also be subject to criminal prosecution merely for driving while their license is suspended (DWLS) when they have prior DWI-related convictions. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently considered what prior convictions are necessary for the criminal DWLS statute to apply in State v. Dougherty.

New Jersey’s criminal DWLS statute imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in jail. The statute identifies two scenarios based on the reason for the license suspension and the defendant’s prior record.
1. An ordinary DWLS charge can become a criminal charge if the license suspension is because of a conviction for first-time DWI or refusal to submit to breath testing, and the defendant has a prior conviction for DWLS during the same period of license suspension. This provision appears to require two prior convictions: one for DWI or refusal, and one for DWLS.
2. The criminal statute may also be invoked if the reason for the license suspension is a second or subsequent DWI or refusal conviction. This provision does not require a prior conviction for DWLS, but does require multiple prior DWI or refusal convictions.

The defendant in Dougherty was charged with criminal DWLS under the second scenario identified by the statute. He was convicted of DWI in August 2015, resulting in a three-month license suspension. In November 2015, he was convicted of refusal and sentenced to a seven-month license suspension. A police officer pulled him over while driving in December 2015, during the suspension period resulting from the refusal conviction. A grand jury indicted him for criminal DWLS.
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In New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) and most related offenses are not considered criminal in nature. They are instead classified as traffic or motor vehicle offenses. Driving while license suspended (DWLS) is usually a motor vehicle offense, punishable by a fine, driver’s license suspension, and potential revocation of vehicle registration. In certain circumstances, however, DWLS is a criminal offense. Prosecutors may charge a defendant with both forms of DWLS for a single alleged incident. A defendant convicted of both offenses recently argued on appeal that the trial court should have merged the penalties. The New Jersey Appellate Division agreed earlier this year in State v. Koerner. While it affirmed the conviction, it remanded the case to the lower court for resentencing.

Under New Jersey’s motor vehicle laws, a first DWLS offense carries a fine of $500. If the offense occurs during a period of license suspension for a DWI or refusal conviction, the penalty also includes vehicle registration revocation. For a second offense, the penalty includes a $750 fine and up to five days in jail. The penalty for a third or subsequent offense is a $1,000 fine and up to ten days in jail. If a second, third, or subsequent offense occurs within five years of a prior DWLS conviction, the defendant is also subject to registration revocation. Municipal courts typically hear motor vehicle cases.

The state can charge a person with criminal DWLS in two situations: (1) when the individual has a prior traffic conviction for DWLS during a period of license suspension resulting from a DWI or refusal conviction; or (2) when the alleged offense occurs while the individual’s license is under suspension for a second of subsequent DWI or refusal conviction. In both cases, it is a crime of the fourth degree, with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in county jail. New Jersey’s sentencing statute allows sentences of up to eighteen months for crimes in the fourth degree. The New Jersey Superior Court, Law Division is the venue for most criminal cases.
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According to recent media reports, the number of convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey is decreasing, at least with regard to cases involving alcohol. The decline reportedly might be due to an increase in DWI cases involving marijuana and other controlled substances. New Jersey law provides no per se standard for impairment by marijuana or other drugs that is comparable to the standard for alcohol. A bill currently pending in the New Jersey Assembly, A2776, would establish a per se standard for marijuana in DWI cases. This bill, if enacted, would probably present both benefits and drawbacks for New Jersey DWI defendants.

New Jersey law creates a presumption of impairment if a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is at least 0.08 percent. This is often known as DWI per se. Since no similar standard exists for marijuana and other drugs, prosecutors must rely on testimony from police officers who have received training as “drug recognition experts” (DREs). Typically, a DRE-certified officer observes a defendant during or shortly after their arrest, and then forms an opinion of which substance(s) they took. The use of DRE testimony in court presents problems for defendants, given the wide gulf that often exists between the questionable scientific basis of their training and the weight that courts often give to police officers’ testimony.

Tests for marijuana look for specific compounds in the blood. Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active component of marijuana, but it can dissipate in the bloodstream within a few hours. As the body metabolizes THC, it produces a form of carboxylic acid known as delta 9-carboxy-THC (THC-COOH) as a metabolite. The presence of THC-COOH can determine if someone has recently used marijuana, but it is a less accurate method of establishing actual impairment.

Police, when investigating suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases in New Jersey, must obtain a warrant, or a suspect’s consent, to collect blood samples under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The “exigent circumstances” exception allows warrantless searches when taking the time to obtain a warrant would create a significant risk that evidence will be lost or destroyed. New Jersey courts currently look at the “totality of the circumstances” when considering warrantless blood draws. A recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Zalcberg, considers this question in light of recent changes to the law and police officers’ accompanying uncertainty.

The New Jersey DWI statute allows the state to prove impairment based solely on a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC), making this sort of evidence very important to the state. Time is an important factor, since alcohol breaks down in the bloodstream over time. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the gradual dissipation of alcohol, by itself, is not an exigent circumstance for Fourth Amendment purposes in 2013’s Missouri v. McNeely.

In 2015’s State v. Adkins, the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted a rather narrow view of McNeely’s effect on New Jersey DWI cases. Cases decided after McNeely, including cases that were “in the pipeline” at the time McNeely was decided, are bound by that precedent. New Jersey municipal and trial courts could, however, give “substantial weight” to dissipation in determining whether the exigent circumstances should apply. While dissipation could not qualify as an exception to the warrant requirement on its own, the court effectively said that it was a major circumstance among the totality of the circumstances. This became important in Zalcberg.