New Jersey allows the state to prove driving while intoxicated (DWI) by having police officers testify about a defendant’s behavior or appearance. They may ask a defendant to participate in field sobriety tests (FSTs), which can supposedly demonstrate impairment. Unlike breath testing, FSTs are not mandatory under New Jersey law. If you agree to perform FSTs during a traffic stop, and the police arrest you for DWI, you may be able to challenge the evidence based on a variety of factors. A DWI lawyer can advise you about which defenses might be available to you.

What Field Sobriety Tests May New Jersey Police Use?

Police in New Jersey have official approval for three FSTs. They may use other tests as well, but anything other than the officially approved tests does not have any scientific support behind it.

Officially Approved Tests

Three FSTs have at least some scientific support as ways to detect intoxication or impairment. Their reliability is still a matter of much dispute.
– One-Leg Stand (OLS): You must stand straight, with your arms at your side, and lift one leg about six inches off the ground for thirty seconds.
– Walk-and-Turn (WAT): You must walk heel-to-toe in a straight line for nine steps, counting each step out loud. You must then turn around and return to the starting point with nine more heel-to-toe steps.
– Horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN): This is the most controversial of the three official tests. The officer will hold a pen or other object in front of your face. You must follow the object with your eyes, without moving your head. The officer is looking for involuntary eye movements that allegedly indicate impairment.
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New Jersey law imposes numerous penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI) and related offenses. Penalties like fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension are fairly well known. Since late 2019, the penalties for all DWI convictions include mandatory use of an ignition interlock device (IID). People with DWI and other convictions must have an IID installed in their vehicle in order to reinstate their license. Interfering with or trying to get around an IID is a separate offense under New Jersey law that can bring additional penalties. This post reviews when state law requires the use of an IID, how long a person must use it after their conviction, and when they may have it removed.

What Is an Ignition Interlock Device?

An IID is a breathalyzer device that attaches to the steering column of a vehicle. A person must blow into the device in order to start the vehicle’s engine. If the breath sample exceeds a certain blood alcohol content (BAC), the IID stops the ignition from sending a signal to the starter, meaning that the vehicle cannot start.

The BAC level at which IIDs prevent ignition is 0.05 percent in New Jersey. Note that this is lower than the “legal limit” of 0.08 percent, at which the law presumes a person is too impaired to drive.

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New Jersey law gives police and prosecutors several methods for proving guilt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. Every driver on New Jersey roads must submit to breath testing if a police officer asks them to do so after arresting them on suspicion of DWI. Police must have probable cause to make an arrest before they can conduct mandatory breath testing. They may ask a person to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) at the scene of a traffic stop. Unlike breath testing, state law does not require drivers to submit to FSTs. What happens, though, when a driver refuses an officer’s request to perform FSTs? Read on to learn more about what might happen in this situation.

New Jersey Law Does Not Require Participation in Field Sobriety Tests

Police must have probable cause to suspect DWI before they may arrest you or require you to submit a breath sample. The Fourth Amendment establishes the probable cause requirement for an arrest. The statute that defines the offense of refusal to submit to breath testing sets out three requirements:
– An officer had probable cause to believe that a person committed DWI.
– They placed the person under arrest.
– The officer requested a breath test, and the person refused.

FSTs appear nowhere in the DWI statute or the refusal statute. They are merely one of several methods police officers may use to assess whether a person appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
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Operating a vehicle is a significant responsibility, requiring careful attention to your surroundings and the safety of others. Alcohol and many types of drugs can interfere with attention, reaction time, and other abilities that you need when behind the wheel or at the controls. New Jersey treats driving while intoxicated (DWI) as a serious motor vehicle or traffic offense. Other vehicles, including boats and airplanes, also have legal restrictions based on impairment by alcohol or drugs. In 2018, the New Jersey governor signed a bill outlawing the operation of aerial drones while under the influence. The “drunk droning” law has not received much attention in the courts, so far, but it is worth exploring how it compares to the state’s DWI law.

What is “Drunk Droning”?

New Jersey’s DWI law requires three basic elements: a person, a motor vehicle, and the influence of alcohol or drugs. Prosecutors can prove that a driver was impaired based on blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more or other evidence indicating the influence of drugs or alcohol. This typically involves police officers’ observations of a driver’s behavior and appearance.

The new law applies the same restrictions to “unmanned aircraft,” which it defines as any aircraft that can only be operated by a person remotely. An ‘unmanned aircraft system” (UAS) consists of the aircraft itself and the equipment needed to operate it, such as a remote control. A person may not operate a UAS while impaired by alcohol or drugs or if they have BAC of at least 0.08 percent.

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New Jersey law does not classify driving while intoxicated (DWI) as a criminal offense. It is a traffic offense only, but still an extremely serious charge with significant potential effects. DWI is a motor vehicle offense in New Jersey that can lead to jail time, fines, and other penalties. Driver’s license suspension is a fairly well-known consequence of a DWI conviction, but that is not the only license it could affect. Other licenses could be subject to suspension, or even revocation. If you are facing DWI charges, a New Jersey DWI defense attorney with knowledge of the law can help you understand your rights and options. Read on to learn more about how DWI can affect different licenses.

Driver’s License

Suspension of one’s driver’s license is one of the main penalties for a DWI conviction. The duration of the suspension depends on the number of prior convictions and the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC):
– First offense, with BAC of at least 0.08 percent but lower than 0.15 percent: As long as it takes for the person to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle
– First offense, with BAC of 0.15 percent or higher: Four months to six months
– First offense involving driving “under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug”: Seven months to one year
– Second offense within ten years of the first offense: One to two years
– Third or subsequent offense within ten years of the previous offense: Eight years

Commercial Driver’s License

A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required to operate many large vehicles, such as semi-trailers. A DWI conviction can result in a longer period of suspension or permanent loss of a CDL, which amounts to the loss of one’s livelihood.
– First offense: One-year CDL suspension
– Second offense: Permanent revocation of CDL
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Operating any kind of powered vehicles, such as a car, truck, boat, or airplane, can be dangerous to yourself and others around you. You need a license to drive a motor vehicle on public roads in New Jersey. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a motor vehicle offense under New Jersey law that can result in license suspension, fines, and possible jail time. Aircraft can be even more dangerous than cars or trucks, so the requirements for becoming a pilot are far stricter than most types of driver’s licenses. The penalties for operating an aircraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol — also known as flying while intoxicated (FWI) — can result in penalties under both state and federal law.

Who Is Legally Allowed to Fly a Plane?

Each state handles driver’s licenses for its residents. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) deals with pilot licensing, known as certification, for the entire country. The type of certification depends on factors like the size of the aircraft and the number of passengers. Everyone starts with a student license. From there, the options include:
– Recreational pilots: Limited to small aircraft, short distances, and a small number of passengers;
– Private pilots: Can fly small aircraft with passengers for business purposes; and
– Commercial pilots: Can operate large commercial jets.

What Is Flying While Intoxicated?

Both state and federal law prohibit FWI. New Jersey defines the offense as operating an aircraft “while under the influence of or using intoxicating liquors, cocaine or other habit-forming drugs.” Unlike the DWI statute, it does not specify a blood alcohol content (BAC) amount at which a pilot is presumed to be impaired. Federal law handles that aspect of the offense.
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New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law imposes substantial penalties for offenses, including driver’s license suspension, fines, and even jail time in some cases. New Jersey also has a law that deals with boating while intoxicated (BWI) and imposes similar penalties. The similarities do not stop there. Just like with DWI, people who operate certain types of watercraft on New Jersey waterways have given implied consent to submit breath samples to police, which they will use to measure blood alcohol content (BAC). Refusal to submit to breath testing for suspected BWI is a separate offense. The penalties are similar to those in New Jersey DWI refusal cases.

A person commits BWI if they operate “a power vessel or a vessel which is 12 feet or greater in length” while intoxicated. A “vessel” is any type of watercraft. A “power vessel” is one that does not rely solely on “sails or…muscular power” for propulsion. A person who operates a motorboat while under the influence, therefore, commits BWI no matter the size of the watercraft. If that same person is operating a canoe, kayak, or sailboat, on the other hand, state law probably would not consider it to be BWI unless the craft was at least twelve feet long. That said, other boating laws and regulations might apply if someone is operating a large sailboat in a reckless manner.

A member of the New Jersey State Police or a local law enforcement officer can instruct a person operating any type of watercraft covered by the BWI statute to submit a breath sample. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. State law establishes procedures that police must follow in order to collect breath samples. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Chun requires police to meet additional requirements when using an Alcotest device in BWI cases.
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New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law applies to most motor vehicles, such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, and e-bikes. Riders of non-motorized bicycles are not subject to New Jersey DWI laws. A separate statute addresses operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The boating while intoxicated (BWI) statute is similar to the DWI law, but not identical. The fact that the two laws have different penalties has some important effects. Courts can use prior DWI convictions to enhance the penalties for a new DWI offense. The New Jersey Appellate Division has held that past BWI convictions do not count as prior convictions when determining the penalties for a DWI conviction.

The structure of the BWI law is almost identical to the DWI statute. It prohibits operating a “vessel” in two situations:
– While under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or
– With blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more.
It defines “vessel” as “a boat or watercraft…used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” A “power vessel” is one that has “machinery for propulsion.” The BWI statute applies to power vessels and vessels that are at least twelve feet long. A canoe that is less than twelve feet long, for example, would not be covered by the law since it is not a power vessel. A motorboat of any length would be covered.

The BWI statute also determines penalties the same way as the DWI statute. It establishes four levels of the offense:
1. First offense with BAC of at least 0.08 percent but less than 0.10 percent;
2. First offense with BAC of 0.10 percent or more, or while under the influence of drugs;
3. Second offense; and
4. Third or subsequent offense.
Penalties may include driver’s license suspension, loss of boating privileges, fines, and jail time.
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The state has the burden of proving guilt in New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. This is a difficult burden to meet. A DWI lawyer’s job, in part, is to challenge the reliability of the methods that prosecutors may use to prove that a defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Many of the tests that police use are not as reliable as the public might think. A person can fail a field sobriety test for numerous reasons besides intoxication, for example. Breath testing devices can be highly unreliable without careful maintenance and operation. Before prosecutors can introduce evidence based on an unfamiliar scientific process or device, New Jersey courts require evidence that this process or device has the scientific community’s acceptance. This is known as the Frye standard. Several types of evidence used in New Jersey DWI cases have faced the Frye standard over the years.

What Is the Frye Standard?

The Frye standard gets its name from a 1923 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. It applies to methodologies, processes, or devices that courts have not encountered before. In order for evidence based on a new device or process to be admissible, the party introducing it must show that it has “general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs.”

Many jurisdictions have abandoned Frye because it imposes such a stringent standard of proof. New Jersey courts still use it for criminal and motor vehicle offenses.

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In any New Jersey courtroom proceeding, neither side can present any evidence unless the court has found that it is admissible. Municipal court judges hearing driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases often have to rule on defendants’ motions to suppress evidence that police allegedly obtained unlawfully. They must rule on objections to testimony based on rules about relevance and hearsay. Scientific evidence presents additional challenges, especially when it involves new or unfamiliar techniques or technology. With police around the state preparing to roll out a new Alcotest device in DWI cases, it is worth considering how courts decide whether to admit new scientific evidence.

Why is there a need for a separate standard for scientific evidence?

Trials and hearings may have two types of witness testimony. Fact witnesses can testify about what they saw and heard. They are not supposed to insert their own opinions. A person who witnessed a car accident, for example, can testify about what they saw, but not about why they think the accident happened.

An expert witness can testify about their opinions on certain matters. In order for the court to accept them as an expert witness, they have to testify about specialized education, training, or experience that gives them greater insight into an issue than most people. A DWI defendant who failed the field sobriety tests because of a leg injury could have their doctor testify about that injury. The doctor’s medical training allows them to offer an opinion that the leg injury could have caused the defendant to stumble.
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