Are breath or blood test results required to prove that a driver was legally intoxicated? While test results showing blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08 percent might be the most well-known means of proving intoxication, it is not the only means. A defendant recently asked a New Jersey appellate court to reverse his DWI conviction, arguing that the state lacked sufficient evidence to prove DWI without BAC evidence. The trial court had based its decision on testimony from the arresting officers. The appellate court reviewed New Jersey law regarding how the state may prove impairment in a DWI case, and it affirmed the convictions in State v. Robinson in February 2015.
According to the court’s opinion, the arresting officers observed the defendant’s pickup truck at about 2:00 a.m., traveling on I-287 at between 80 and 85 miles per hour and changing lanes without signaling. The defendant, after pulling over, reportedly told the officers that he had just worked a 14-hour shift, was very tired, and simply wanted to go home. The officers stated that they did not detect any odor of alcohol, although they claimed that defendant’s speech “was a little slurred.” They accepted his explanation, cited him for careless driving, and warned him against speeding.
At that point, according to the officers, the defendant “bolted” in his truck, quickly accelerating back to around 85 miles per hour. The officers testified that they had to drive close to 100 miles per hour to overtake him. The other officer spoke to the defendant when he pulled over. He also did not notice any alcohol smell, but he claimed that the defendant had difficulty getting his driver’s license out of his wallet. This officer had the defendant perform several field sobriety tests, including the walk and turn test and the one-legged stand test. He claimed the defendant did poorly on both. At this point, the officers arrested the defendant for DWI.
Another officer administered a breath test at the station, which produced readings of 0.115 and 0.118 percent BAC. A municipal court judge found the defendant guilty of DWI based on both the BAC evidence and the officers’ testimony. On appeal to the Superior Court, Trial Division, the court threw out the breath tests results because of “inconsistencies in the foundational documents,” but it found the defendant guilty of DWI based solely on the officers’ observations and opinions. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Division.
The defendant argued that, without the BAC evidence, the officers’ testimony did not support a DWI conviction. He noted that neither officer smelled alcohol, and that neither officer testified to bloodshot eyes or other common physical signs of intoxication. The officer who conducted the field sobriety tests could not remember asking if the defendant had any injuries that might affect his performance, which the defendant claimed called the results into question. He also argued that the officer should have had him perform the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test. The court rejected these arguments, ruling that a court may rely on layperson testimony to determine intoxication and noting that the officers, as New Jersey State Troopers, had training in identifying the signs of intoxication.
DWI attorney Evan M. Levow fights the rights of people who are facing New Jersey DWI charges. We have dedicated our entire law practice at Levow & Associates to DWI defense, and we are available 24/7 to help you. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you, contact us online or at (877) 975-3399.
Note: No one from our firm participated in the Robinson case.
More Blog Posts:
New Jersey Governor Blocks Bill that Would Lessen Some DWI Penalties, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 24, 2015
Defendant Not Obligated to Disclose Prior DWI Conviction, According to New Jersey Appellate Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 18, 2015
“Alcohol Restricted Driver” Laws in Some States Impose Substantial Restrictions on People with DWI Convictions, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 12, 2015
Photo credit: By Crispy1995 at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.