New Jersey DWI Case Leads to Family Court Proceedings

father and childDriving while intoxicated (DWI) can affect a person’s life in nearly countless ways. Many potential consequences are not contained in the DWI statute itself. A recent decision by the New Jersey Appellate Division, N.J. Div. of Child Protection and Permanency v. T.S., demonstrates how a DWI case, even when it doesn’t result in a conviction, can have far-reaching consequences—in this case, charges of child endangerment.

New Jersey defines DWI in simple terms. A person commits an offense when they drive while “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol, or when they drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. The statute focuses solely on the act of driving and the fact of “influence” by drugs or alcohol. A person’s ability to drive safely, even after a few drinks, is therefore not a factor under New Jersey law. While public safety is one of the central purposes of the DWI statute, the state is not required to prove that a defendant actually posed a direct danger to anyone.

Other areas of law are also concerned with the danger posed by certain activities. New Jersey law defines child abuse or neglect, in part, as “unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or substantial risk thereof.” In other words, behavior that poses a substantial risk of harm to a child could legally constitute child abuse or neglect, even if the child in question suffered no actual harm. This definition of child abuse or neglect applies to civil proceedings regarding child welfare, including the removal of a child from the home on a temporary or permanent basis. Unlike DWI proceedings, civil cases only require proof by a preponderance of evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.

At the time of her DWI arrest, the defendant in T.S. had custody of two nieces, J and S, in addition to her two daughters, T and N. An officer stopped her vehicle after reportedly observing her clipping a road sign. The defendant admitted to having several alcoholic drinks shortly before driving. Two of the children, T and J, were in the back seat. A breath test showed a BAC of 0.19 percent. The DWI case, according to the court, was resolved with pretrial intervention, but the state also brought a child abuse/neglect case.

The family court judge found that the state had not met its burden of proof. While the defendant’s conduct posed an unmistakable danger to the children, the judge called it an “isolated incident,” noting her cooperation with child welfare workers and her consistently negative drug and alcohol tests.

The state appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the family court. While the appeal was pending, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling, NJDCPP v. E.D.-O., which held that courts may only consider the risk posed at the time of the alleged incident. Looking only at the events on the day of the arrest, the Appellate Division found that the state had met its burden of proof.

Defending against a charge of alleged DWI in a New Jersey court requires careful planning and thorough preparation. DWI lawyer Evan Levow can help you prepare a strong defense, based on the particular circumstances of your case. Contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Appellate Division Reverses Criminal DWLS Convictions Based on Recent Precedential Decision, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, November 2, 2016

How a DWI Conviction in New Jersey Could Affect Your International Travel Plans, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 12, 2016

New Jersey Legislature Passes Bill Affecting Transit Engineers With DWI-Related License Suspensions, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 2, 2016

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