A person commits the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey when they operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug. The DWI statute establishes four levels of penalties. The first two levels apply to first offenses. The remaining levels apply to second offenses and third or subsequent offenses. The New Jersey Legislature amended the statute in 1999 to add enhanced penalties for DWI offenses that occur on or near school property, or in designated crosswalks. The general offense of DWI is codified in § 39:4-50(a) of the Revised Statutes, and the school-related provisions are in subsection (g). In 2004, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that subsection (g) is a separate offense from subsection (a). This has created some confusion about how to determine when a prior New Jersey DWI conviction should count toward a sentencing enhancement.

Subsection (a) sets two levels of penalties for a first DWI offense. If the defendant had a BAC of more than 0.08 percent, but less than 0.10 percent, the penalties include a fine of $250 to $400, jail time of 12 to 48 hours, and a three-month driver’s license suspension. Some penalties increase if the defendant’s BAC was 0.10 percent or higher, such as a fine of $300 to $500 and a license suspension of seven months to one year. The penalties increase for a second offense, and again for a third or subsequent offense, provided that the most recent previous offense occurred no more than 10 years earlier.

The New Jersey Legislature passed Senate Bill 854 in June 1999, and it was signed into law in August of that year. Legislators named the bill “Filomena’s Law,” after a school crossing guard who was killed by a drunk driver in 1997. The bill amended numerous provisions of New Jersey law, including sections of the Code of Criminal Justice addressing vehicular homicide and other offenses. It added subsection (g) to the DWI statute, which applies when a person commits DWI on school property, within 1,000 feet of school property, in a designated school crossing, or in an area the driver knows is being used as a school crossing.

New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute sets multiple levels of penalties, primarily based on a defendant’s number of convictions within the prior decade. Enhanced penalties apply for a second offense within a ten-year period, and again for a third or subsequent offense. A 1999 amendment to the DWI statute created a separate set of penalties, found in subsection (g) of the statute, for DWI on or near school property. Uncertainty has arisen with regard to whether a conviction under one subsection should count as a prior offense in a new case under the other subsection, and how to apply the sentencing enhancements found in each subsection. Decisions from the New Jersey Supreme Court and the Appellate Division have held that the order in which the two offenses occur—(g) followed by (a), or (a) followed by (g)—is important.

The penalties for a second DWI conviction under subsection (a) include a fine of $500 to $1,000, imprisonment of forty-eight hours to ninety days, and driver’s license suspension for two years. A second offense under subsection (g) has harsher penalties: a fine of $1,000 to $2,000, imprisonment of ninety-six hours to 180 days, and a four-year license suspension. The penalties for a third or subsequent offense within ten years are also greater under subsection (g) than subsection (a).

A 2004 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling involved a defendant convicted of DWI under subsection (g), with a prior conviction under subsection (a). The municipal court applied subsection (g)’s enhanced penalties for a second offense. The Appellate Division affirmed this sentence, finding that a second DWI offense in a school zone “can be viewed as an escalating violation.”
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When the state charges a person with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, prosecutors have the burden of proving each element of the offense. This includes proving that police did not violate the defendant’s rights against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a general rule, police must obtain a warrant in order to conduct a search, seize property, and make an arrest, but courts have identified many exceptions. In practice, police may conduct warrantless searches in certain situations. Courts have ruled that police may briefly detain a person without a warrant, and without the “probable cause” required to obtain a warrant, when they can demonstrate “reasonable suspicion” of some sort of wrongdoing. This is a lower standard than probable cause, and the distinction can be important in defending against DWI charges in New Jersey courts.

New Jersey’s DWI statute prohibits driving while under the influence of alcohol or other substances that are likely to impair a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. A defendant can challenge or dispute the evidence offered by the state, but they might also be able to challenge the constitutionality of the arrest itself. Many DWI cases begin with a traffic stop, when a police officer pulls a driver over on the road. If a police officer lacked a legal justification for the stop, the court could suppress any evidence obtained as a result of the stop, or dismiss the case altogether. A defendant must move to suppress evidence obtained in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Terry v. Ohio in 1968 that police may detain a person briefly based on the “reasonable suspicion” standard. These are commonly known as Terry stops. The case involved a person stopped and searched by the police while on foot, but the reasonable suspicion standard has also been applied to traffic stops.
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Driving while intoxicated (DWI) can involve other substances besides alcohol. New Jersey’s DWI statute makes it an offense to drive while under the influence of a “narcotic” or “habit-producing drug.” It does not specify that the narcotic or other drug must be illegal or illicit. Certain prescription medications can significantly impair a person’s ability to perform various functions, including driving. Defending against this type of DWI charge often involves challenging the police’s determination of impairment. Even if a person legally possesses a prescription medication, and uses it exactly as instructed by their doctor, the state could still charge them with DWI. Last month, for example, New Jersey prosecutors charged a school bus driver with DWI after a minor accident in a parking lot, alleging that she was under the influence of prescription medications.

New Jersey law identifies a level of blood alcohol content (BAC) at which a person is presumed to be impaired. It does not identify specific levels of other substances. In order to prove that a defendant was under the influence of something other than alcohol, the state usually relies on eyewitness testimony about a defendant’s appearance and demeanor at the time of their arrest. Prosecutors may also offer expert testimony from officers known as “drug recognition experts,” who are purportedly trained in recognizing signs of impairment by various drugs.

Reported cases involving “prescription medication DWI” in New Jersey appear to be rare. Cases often involve combinations of substances. For example, the defendant in a 2015 New Jersey Appellate Division case, State v. Pouch-Mendola, was reportedly taking two prescription medications that acted as “central nervous system depressants.” According to the court, she admitted to “consuming alcohol to ‘enhance’ [the] effect” of the medications. The court affirmed her conviction.
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The New Jersey statute defining the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) allows the state to prove impairment by substances other than alcohol. At the same time, it makes it generally easier for the state to prove impairment by alcohol, partially due to the wider availability of technologies for measuring alcohol in a person’s system. The New Jersey Legislature has written the law to allow a presumption of impairment based on chemical testing for alcohol, but not other substances. A report from last year by NJ.com indicates that the rate of DWI dismissals throughout the state has increased over the past decade. It suggests that an increase in prosecutions for driving under the influence of drugs, or “drugged driving,” could be a factor. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find any single cause for a statistic like this, but it is worth noting that drugged driving is potentially more difficult for prosecutors to prove.

State law defines DWI in two ways. First, a person commits an offense if they drive “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.” This requires the state to prove that a defendant was impaired, or “under the influence,” through a variety of means, such as eyewitness testimony and testimony from officers trained to identify the effects of various drugs. The second type of DWI is often known as DWI per se. It only requires proof that a person drove while their blood alcohol content (BAC) was at or above 0.08 percent. State law requires anyone suspected of DWI to submit breath samples for chemical testing to determine BAC. Refusal to submit a breath sample is a separate motor vehicle offense with penalties that are almost as serious as the penalties for DWI.

Prosecutors routinely call the arresting officer or officers to testify at DWI trials. Where alcohol is allegedly involved, an officer may testify about their observations of a defendant. This may involve the odor of alcohol, or physical signs of intoxication like bloodshot or glassy eyes, slurred speech, and difficulty with balance. An officer who conducted field sobriety tests (FSTs) can offer testimony about a defendant’s performance. Even in the absence of BAC evidence, the state can offer evidence in an attempt to prove intoxication.
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New Jersey DWI law identifies multiple levels of penalties for driving while intoxicated (DWI), primarily based on the number of convictions a defendant has during the ten years prior to the current alleged offense. A third or subsequent offense includes a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days in jail. Municipal courts in New Jersey are authorized by law to allow “periodic service” of a jail sentence, meaning that a person does not have to serve their entire sentence continuously. After a municipal court sentenced a defendant to periodic service of a mandatory 180-day sentence for DWI, prosecutors appealed. They argued that periodic service is not available for a third DWI offense. The Appellate Division agreed with the prosecutors’ argument in July 2018 in State v. Anicama.

Municipal courts in New Jersey have original jurisdiction over motor vehicle and traffic offenses, with some exceptions. The periodic service statute provides that municipal courts may allow a person to serve a jail sentence “periodically on particular days, rather than consecutively.” The person gets credit for each day spent in jail, or for fractions of days “to the nearest hour actually served.”

The penalty for a first DWI offense may vary based on a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC), with enhanced penalties for BAC of 0.10 percent or more. For a second offense within a ten-year period, the penalty is enhanced further regardless of BAC. A third or subsequent offense carries the greatest possible penalty, including a $1,000 fine, a minimum 180-day jail sentence, a ten-year driver’s license suspension, and mandatory use of an ignition interlock device. According to the DWI statute, a court may decrease the jail sentence by up to ninety days if the defendant completes an approved drug or alcohol inpatient treatment program.
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In prosecutions for alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, the state must prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Municipal court judges determine whether prosecutors have met their burden of proof when a case goes to trial. Last year, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered a defendant’s claim that a police officer’s failure to record video of her field sobriety tests (FSTs) should weigh in her favor. The court’s ruling in State v. Belko is a reminder that New Jersey gives prosecutors rather wide latitude in the types of evidence they may use in DWI cases.

The New Jersey DWI statute allows prosecutors to prove impairment by demonstrating that a defendant had blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent, or by showing other evidence that they were “under the influence” of alcohol, narcotics, or other drugs. This could include a defendant’s performance on FSTs, their appearance or demeanor, or testimony from an officer trained in drug recognition.

Municipal judges must weight the credibility of eyewitness and expert testimony in DWI trials. This often requires subjective determinations of how a witness appears in court. As video recording becomes increasingly common, thanks in part to near-ubiquitous smartphones, more and more arrests and other incidents are recorded by one or more people. These videos sometimes serve to challenge the official story from one (or both) sides. Video evidence is often admissible in court, but the Belko case addressed the question of whether video evidence should be required.
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Prosecutors in New Jersey must prove every element of the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) beyond a reasonable doubt. In cases that rely on breath testing to establish blood alcohol content (BAC), this includes evidence that the equipment used by police met the requirements of state law. Our firm was involved in a landmark 2008 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Chun, which established procedures for maintaining and calibrating the breath-testing device used by most New Jersey police departments. The court’s decision also identified a set of “foundational documents” that prosecutors must produce to establish that police have followed these procedures. In September 2018, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled in State v. Ogden on a challenge to the foundational documents offered by the state in a DWI case.

Under the New Jersey DWI statute, BAC of 0.08 percent or above creates a presumption of impairment. State law therefore requires drivers suspected of DWI to submit a breath sample for testing by police. Most police departments around the state use a device commonly known as the Alcotest to test breath samples. These devices have been controversial because of concerns over the training of the officers administering the tests, and the accuracy of the test results. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Chun that Alcotest results are admissible in court, provided that the state meets strict requirements for the maintenance of the devices and the conditions in which breath tests may be performed.

In addition to offering evidence that police followed the testing procedures established by Chun, such as a twenty-minute waiting period before a DWI suspect may submit a breath sample, police must establish that the Alcotest device had been properly calibrated and was in good working order when the defendant was tested. The court identified three “foundational documents” in Chun that prosecutors must produce:
1. The most recent calibration report for the device from before the date of the defendant’s test, which must include information on the credentials of the individual who did the calibration;
2. The most recent “new standard solution report”; and
3. The “certificate of analysis of the 0.10 simulator solution used in a defendant’s control tests.”
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Prosecutors in New Jersey may offer two types of evidence to prove guilt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. First, they may introduce testimony from police officers and others who witnessed a defendant’s appearance and demeanor. This may include testimony about field sobriety tests, or testimony from officers trained as drug recognition experts. The second method allowed by the New Jersey DWI statute is evidence of blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. Most police departments in New Jersey use a device known as the Alcotest to collect breath samples and test them to determine a DWI suspect’s BAC. A landmark 2008 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Chun, established standards for the use of these devices in order to maximize their accuracy. One rule created by the Chun decision requires women who are over sixty years of age to provide a smaller breath sample than other people, based on findings that women at that age are generally unable to provide as much breath as their male peers. A 2013 follow-up order in the Chun case limited the state’s ability to prosecute women over the age of sixty for refusal to submit a breath sample.

New Jersey’s implied consent statute requires drivers to submit to breath testing in DWI investigations. Refusal to do so is a separate motor vehicle offense, punishable by fines and driver’s license suspension. The Alcotest requires an individual to blow into a tube connected to the device for a sustained period of time, in order to provide the 1.5 liters of air needed for the test. The individual must seal their lips around the tube so that no air escapes while they are blowing. New Jersey courts have held that an individual may be found guilty of refusal for repeatedly failing to provide an adequate breath sample, such as by failing to seal their lips around the tube or failing to blow for long enough.

Prior to the 2008 ruling in Chun, a court-appointed special master issued a report that recommended various standard procedures for administering the Alcotest. This included the 1.5-liter minimum volume of air. The special master also noted that the evidence supported a lower required volume for women older than sixty. The court reviewed research showing that, after age sixty, women’s average volume of breath was 1.4 liters. This average volume decreased by 0.1 liter every ten years afterwards. The court accepted these findings and ruled that women over the age of sixty must only provide 1.2 liters of air. It also dismissed possible objections to the two standards under the Equal Protection Clause.
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Most New Jersey police departments use a device known as the Alcotest to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) in breath samples submitted by individuals suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Under New Jersey DWI law, a person with BAC of at least 0.08 percent is presumed to be legally impaired. In 2008, we were involved in a case before the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Chun, that established statewide procedures for calibrating and maintaining Alcotest devices and administering breath tests. In 2016, a sergeant with the New Jersey State Police was charged with allegedly falsifying Alcotest calibration records. The New Jersey Supreme Court has now effectively tossed out Alcotest results in thousands of cases involving machines under that sergeant’s supervision. The court’s decision in State v. Cassidy, issued on November 13, 2018, is likely to have a substantial impact for months to come.

The Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C requires careful calibration to ensure reliable results. The Chun ruling held that Alcotest results are admissible to establish BAC in DWI cases. It also held, however, that police must follow specific procedures to maintain and calibrate the devices, and that prosecutors must make documentation available about the maintenance and calibration of the device used in each case.

The “0.10 simulator solution” used in Alcotest control tests must be maintained within a specific temperature range. Chun requires measurement of this temperature with a thermometer that is traceable to standards established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A “Calibration Report” and “Certificate of Analysis of the 0.10 Simulator Solution” are among the “foundational documents” required by Chun to establish an Alcotest device’s accuracy.
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