The “Right to Remain Silent” in New Jersey DWI Cases

EmojiAnyone who watches cop shows on television knows the warning police must read to a suspect when they place them under arrest. Known as the “Miranda warning,” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona, it is legally required before police may formally interrogate a suspect. The list of rights identified in the Miranda warning are commonly known as Miranda rights. Miranda is considered a landmark decision in criminal justice. Although New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute classifies the offense as a motor vehicle offense, rather than a “crime,” Miranda still applies when police take a DWI suspect into custody.

The Miranda decision arose from a confession signed by a suspect after hours of police interrogation, during which time he was never advised of various constitutional rights. The Supreme Court held that the confession was inadmissible because the defendant did not give it voluntarily, but instead under duress from police officers. The court further stated that police must stop an interrogation once an individual has asserted certain rights. It directed police to advise people of their rights before or at the time they are arrested. From this, the Miranda warning was born. The court would later specifically rule that Miranda applies to DWI cases in Berkemer v. McCarty in 1984.

The first right identified in the Miranda warning—the right to remain silent—refers to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination during “custodial interrogation.” The important question to consider regarding how Miranda applies in New Jersey DWI cases involves the definition of “custody,” as well as the meaning of “silence.” The two are closely related, as the caselaw shows, and DWI cases present at least one specific complication of the idea of the right to remain silent. In New Jersey and many other states, DWI suspects are required by law to provide breath samples for chemical testing. Courts have generally held that this does not violate the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination.

A Supreme Court decision from 2013, Salinas v. Texas, seemed to chip away at the right to remain silent, but a closer look shows that it actually clarified when Miranda applies. The defendant in Salinas voluntarily spoke with police but stopped answering the officers’ questions when they turned to a specific topic. He did not expressly invoke his rights under the Fifth Amendment or Miranda. Police used his silence as evidence against him. The court held that this did not violate his rights because he approached police voluntarily and therefore was not in “custody.”

In contrast to the situation described in Salinas, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in State v. Stas in 2012 that Miranda prevented police and prosecutors from using a DWI suspect’s silence against him without first giving him the Miranda warning. The defendant was convicted of allowing an intoxicated person to operate his vehicle, which counts as a DWI under New Jersey law. While police questioned the intoxicated driver, the defendant stood by in silence. This silence was essentially the only evidence against him—the driver admitted to DWI, and the defendant said nothing to contradict him. The court, citing Berkemer, found that the defendant was effectively in police custody at the time and was therefore entitled to Miranda protections.

Defending against DWI charges in New Jersey requires careful and thorough preparation. DWI attorney Evan Levow can guide you through the municipal court process and prepare a solid defense for your case. Contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how our team can help you.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Appellate Court Considers DWI Defendant’s “Confusion” Defense, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 16, 2016

The Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, September 30, 2015

Court Rules on Right Against Self-Incrimination, Right to Jury Trial in New Jersey DWI Case, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 27, 2015

Photo credit: Emoji One [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.