Appellate Division Rules on Fourth and Fifth Amendment Challenges to New Jersey DWI Conviction

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect people against misconduct by police and prosecutors. In cases of suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI), New Jersey police are bound by various decisions of the U.S. and New Jersey Supreme Courts that apply these constitutional rights. Police cannot stop a person’s vehicle, for example, unless they have reasonable suspicion of DWI or other unlawful activity, or as part of an established temporary DWI checkpoint. A decision issued by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division in September 2019 addressed a different situation, which is less common in DWI cases. Police entered the defendant’s home, questioned him there, and then arrested him for DWI. The court considered whether this violated his rights under the Fourth or Fifth Amendments.

New Jersey’s DWI statute provides prosecutors with two ways to prove that a defendant was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. If breath, blood, or urine testing shows blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, state law presumes the person to be intoxicated. Even without BAC evidence, though, police and others can testify about their observations of a defendant’s appearance, odor, and behavior, to establish intoxication.

The Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain search warrants based on probable cause. Courts have identified numerous exceptions that allow police to enter private property and conduct searches without a warrant. They must be able to convince a judge that the search fits within an identified exception. The Fifth Amendment guarantees the right against self-incrimination. Police cannot coerce a person to confess to a crime, and prosecutors cannot compel a person to implicate themselves. A defendant can challenge the constitutionality of a search or arrest by filing a motion to suppress evidence. If a judge finds a violation of constitutional rights, any evidence obtained as a result is suppressed, meaning prosecutors cannot use it at trial.

Police arrested the defendant in the case mentioned above at his home, although he was apparently not living there at the time. The defendant reportedly arrived at the residence “with damage to his car.” His estranged wife, who did live there, called the police. When a patrolman arrived, she invited him inside and directed him to the defendant. The patrolman questioned the defendant, and noted that he appeared intoxicated. He arrested the defendant, and a breath test showed BAC of 0.29 percent

The defendant moved to suppress the BAC results and the statements he had made to the patrolman. He argued that the patrolman entered the home without a warrant in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and that he questioned him without reading him his Miranda rights in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Appellate Division distinguished this situation from others when police might enter a private home. It found no Fourth Amendment violation, since the wife invited the patrolman in. Police must read the Miranda warning before questioning a suspect who is under arrest. The court ruled that the questioning of the husband inside the home was the equivalent of questioning a driver during a traffic stop, before the Miranda warning is required. The court did not mention whether anyone actually witnessed the defendant driving his car.

DWI attorney Evan Levow can advocate for your rights, guide you through the court process, and prepare the best defense for you if you are facing alleged DWI charges in a New Jersey municipal court. Please contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options.