Evidence in New Jersey DWI Cases, Part 1: Testimony

Landis RockefellerIn any prosecution for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, the burden of proof is on the state to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. When a DWI case goes to trial, every piece of evidence introduced by both parties must be approved and admitted by the judge. The evidence must comply with the New Jersey Rules of Evidence (NJRE). Testimony is often a critical part of the state’s evidence in DWI cases, such as an arresting officer testifying about their observations of a defendant and establishing their reasons for suspecting them of DWI. Understanding which testimony is allowed under the NJRE is crucial to defending against a DWI charge.

Elements of a New Jersey DWI Case

New Jersey’s DWI statute allows prosecutors to meet their burden by proving impairment by alcohol or drugs, or by proving a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent. Proving impairment without BAC evidence requires testimony from police officers who witnessed the defendant in whichever circumstances led to the DWI charge. Even with BAC evidence, prosecutors must introduce testimony that justifies the arrest and authenticates the BAC test results.

Eyewitness and Expert Testimony

NJRE 602 states that no one may offer testimony on matters about which they lack personal knowledge. Police officers and others can testify about events and circumstances that they personally witnessed. Their testimony about statements made by other people outside court, however, may be limited by the hearsay rule, discussed below.

In some situations, a witness may be able to offer testimony expressing their opinions about certain matters, rather than merely stating facts. NJRE 701 discusses opinion testimony by lay witnesses, while NJRE 702 deals with expert testimony by individuals with “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge.” The court must certify that a witness has such knowledge and that they can offer relevant testimony before they may testify on matters of expert opinion.

The Hearsay Rule

Hearsay is defined in NJRE 801(c) as an out-of-court statement “offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.” The hearsay rule states that hearsay is inadmissible, unless it falls under one of many exceptions. A person offering eyewitness testimony at a DWI trial, for example, might not be allowed to testify about their own or someone else’s statement that the defendant was intoxicated, if that statement is intended as evidence that the defendant actually was intoxicated. That said, this situation could fall under at least two hearsay exceptions found in NJRE 803(c):  a statement made at the time that constituted a “present sense impression” of the defendant’s condition, or an “excited utterance” made at that time “without opportunity to deliberate or fabricate.”

Perhaps the most important hearsay exception in DWI cases is the “statement by party-opponent” exception, found in NJRE 803(b). This essentially says that a defendant cannot object to the introduction into evidence of their own out-of-court statements. A DWI defendant therefore cannot object to their own statements to police as hearsay, although they could object to them for violating their right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment.

If you are facing a charge of DWI in a New Jersey court, DWI attorney Evan Levow can guide you through the court process, help you understand your rights, and prepare a comprehensive defense for your particular case. You can 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:

The “Right to Remain Silent” in New Jersey DWI Cases, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 19, 2017

Breath Testing in New Jersey DWI Cases and the Right Against Self-Incrimination, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 18, 2017

What Statements by a New Jersey DWI Defendant Are, and Are Not, Admissible in Court? New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 17, 2017

Photo credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons