New Jersey DWI Arrests, Part 2: Beyond Traffic Stops

Ryan Weisgerber [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrNew Jersey police arrested a man in late October for suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI), after the vehicle he was allegedly driving collided with another vehicle. A traffic stop is perhaps considered the usual way a DWI arrest occurs, but it is not the only way. Police can detain a person on suspicion of DWI through any legal means of establishing probable cause, including random stops for the purpose of deterring DWI. New Jersey courts have held that an arresting officer does not have to witness a person actually driving to have probable cause to suspect DWI. This series looks at the various grounds for a DWI arrest.

Accidents

The recent story involves an arrest that occurred around midnight on Halloween. According to news reports, a vehicle collided with a police cruiser, causing the cruiser to go onto a concrete embankment and hit a utility pole. Failing to avoid an accident can, by itself, be a traffic offense under New Jersey law. In this case, however, police also suspected the person alleged to have been driving the vehicle of DWI.

Suspicion of DWI often arises from physical signs of intoxication, such as the odor of alcohol or the presence of bloodshot eyes, and from a person’s behavior, such as slurred speech, lack of coordination, or swaying while standing. The driver was reportedly charged with DWI with an enhancement because the alleged incident occurred in a school zone, as well as refusal to submit to breath testing and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.

Roadside DWI Checkpoints

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz authorized the use of roadside checkpoints by police to enforce DWI laws. Courts have generally held that the state’s interest in protecting public safety outweighs any concerns raised under the Fourth Amendment with regard to motor vehicle stops not based on suspicion of any particular offense.

The New Jersey Supreme Court established guidelines for this state’s law enforcement officials in 2002 in State v. Carty. Roadblocks intended to check for DWI, according to the court, must be set up at a specific time and location “based on data justifying the site selection,” any roadblock must have “adequate warnings to avoid frightening the traveling public,” police must also use general warnings to the public against DWI, and officers working at roadblocks must use “officially specified neutral and courteous procedures” when dealing with drivers.

Stopped Vehicles

Aside from vehicles that have been involved in an accident, police may find probable cause for a DWI arrest in other situations when they do not witness a person actually operating a vehicle. A common scenario involves a person who is too impaired to drive and who is found in the driver’s seat of their own parked car with the engine running. The person very often says they were trying to “sleep it off” before attempting to drive, and they had the engine on in order to run the heater or the air conditioner. This might seem like the responsible thing to do, but police and the courts may consider the person’s location—in the driver’s seat with the engine running—as evidence that they intended to drive. New Jersey courts have allowed this interpretation at least as far back as the Appellate Division’s 1952 decision in State v. Baumgartner.

To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your New Jersey DWI case with an experienced and skilled DWI lawyer, contact Levow DWI Law today online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

Recent Decisions in Several New Jersey DWI Appeals Demonstrate that Actual Driving Is Not Always Required to Sustain a DWI Conviction, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 19, 2015

DWI Checkpoints Remain Legal in New Jersey, but Police Must Follow Strict Guidelines, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, March 3, 2015

New Jersey DWI Law Does Not Require Police to Witness Actual Driving, as Arrest of Sleeping Man for DWI Demonstrates, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 17, 2014

Photo credit: Ryan Weisgerber [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.