Articles Posted in Defending the Case

Legal News GavelIn order to prove that a defendant is guilty of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, prosecutors must establish multiple elements beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes proving that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. New Jersey courts have given prosecutors leeway regarding this element, ruling that police do not have to witness a DWI suspect actually driving. Instead, prosecutors may use circumstantial evidence. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently reviewed this standard of proof in an appeal brought by a defendant found sleeping in his vehicle. The court’s decision in State v. Capers offers a brief but useful overview of this element of the DWI offense.

The New Jersey DWI statute states that a person commits an offense when they “operate[] a motor vehicle while under the influence of” alcohol or drugs. The bulk of the text of this section is devoted to blood alcohol content (BAC) and the various penalties for convictions. The Legislature devoted very little space to the actual operation of a motor vehicle. One might think, given that the state must prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt, that courts would require actual eyewitness testimony about the defendant’s operation of a vehicle, or a defendant’s admission to driving. The courts, however, have taken a very expansive view of how prosecutors can prove that a defendant operated a vehicle.

A 2005 decision by the Appellate Division, State v. Ebert, specifically holds that “[a]ctual operation is not required to satisfy the element” of the DWI statute. The court identified three methods of proving operation of a vehicle:
1. Testimony about “actual observation of the defendant driving while intoxicated”;
2. Testimony regarding “observation of the defendant in or out of the vehicle under circumstances indicating that the defendant had been driving while intoxicated”; or
3. A “defendant’s admission” to operating a vehicle under the influence.
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drugsNew Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute does not limit the offense to alcohol. It also includes any “narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug” that might impair one’s ability to drive. The statute makes proving impairment by alcohol rather easier for the state by identifying a specific level of blood alcohol content (BAC)—0.08 percent or above—that creates a legal presumption of intoxication. In cases in which police suspect impairment by something other than alcohol, or in which the BAC is below the legal limit, but they still suspect intoxication of some sort, they may bring in a “drug recognition expert” (DRE) to evaluate the suspect. DREs receive training in identifying signs of impairment by various drugs, but both their methodology and the scientific validity of their evaluations remain questionable. In fact, it is junk science that is less than 50% reliable — less reliable than a flip of a coin.

Prosecutors must prove that a defendant in a DWI case was legally impaired. Proving that the defendant’s BAC was at least 0.08 percent, based on a breath, blood, or urine test, typically satisfies this requirement. This evidence is not always available, or prosecutors may allege that a defendant with BAC of less than 0.08 percent was nevertheless legally impaired. The testimony of the arresting officer might support this claim, such as if the officer witnessed slurred speech or other signs indicating intoxication. The mere fact that a driver was not operating their vehicle safely, however, is not enough for a DWI charge, since reckless driving is a distinct offense. DREs serve to provide additional support for the allegation that a driver was impaired. It is critical that the opinion of the DRE be challenged, as any opinion based on the DRE protocol is not based on scientifically validated testing.

The Los Angeles Police Department established the first DRE program in the 1970s, after numerous DWI suspects had a low BAC but still seemed impaired to police. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) later expanded the program to other states. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has operated a nationwide program since 1989. Police officers receive training and certification through the IACP in the recognition of seven categories of drugs. New Jersey has over 400 certified DREs.

Legal News GavelThe Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies in all New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) investigations and prosecutions. Defendants can raise Fourth Amendment challenges to numerous aspects of a DWI prosecution, such as a lack of reasonable suspicion before stopping their vehicle, or a lack of probable cause to initiate a DWI investigation. In cases in which police suspect an intoxicating substance other than alcohol, they may make use of a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE), who has received training in identifying signs of impairment by various drugs. A lawsuit filed last year challenges the use of DREs on Fourth Amendment grounds. While the case is pending in another state, it could affect future New Jersey DWI cases.

A private organization, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), operates the system for training and certifying DREs in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). New Jersey has more than 400 police officers participating in the program. DREs use a 12-step process to assess whether a DWI suspect is under the influence of drugs. The IACP claims that this process is supported by scientific research, although this is subject to dispute. Part of the process, for example, involves field sobriety tests that are not part of the standard battery of tests approved by the NHTSA. A variety of medical conditions, physical impairments, and other factors could influence an individual’s performance on the various tests administered by a DRE as part of the 12-step process. A DRE’s expertise, for evidentiary purposes in court, usually does not extend beyond their specific training as a DRE.

The lawsuit mentioned above, Ebner v. Cobb County, involves three plaintiffs who, according to their complaint, were arrested, subjected to forced blood draws, and held for several hours “simply because a police officer had a hunch, based on deeply flawed drug-recognition training, that they might have been smoking marijuana.” None of them were under the influence of marijuana at the time of their arrests, they claim, and toxicology tests reportedly showed no traces of marijuana or its metabolites. They were all charged with DWI, but all charges were eventually dropped.

Legal News GavelUnder the laws of the state of New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a motor vehicle offense rather than a criminal offense. While a DWI conviction can result in serious penalties, including the possibility of jail time, the New Jersey court system does not deal with DWI cases in the same way it handles most criminal cases. A defendant in a New Jersey DWI case, for example, does not have the right to a trial by jury as described in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. DWI is considered a “petty” offense, and therefore it is not covered by all of the provisions of the Bill of Rights that apply in criminal cases. Most other rights, like the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the Sixth Amendment’s right to confront one’s accuser, still apply in DWI cases. Understanding which courts may consider DWI prosecutions and appeals, and how they are allowed to consider them, is important when planning a defense against DWI charges.

Municipal courts have original jurisdiction over DWI cases under Rule 7:1 of the New Jersey Rules of Court (NJROC). The municipal court judge handles all pretrial motions and other matters, and presides over the trial if one occurs. The judge will render a verdict and decide on a sentence. Several levels of appeal are available after a conviction in municipal court. If a person seeks post-conviction relief, however, NJROC 7:10-2 requires them to file a petition in the municipal court where the conviction took place.

Appeals from a municipal court conviction go to the Superior Court, Law Division. NJROC 3:23 requires a defendant to file a notice of appeal within 20 days of their conviction. The Law Division, upon receiving a transcript from the municipal court, may reverse the conviction and remand the case to the lower court, or it may conduct a trial de novo. While the Law Division is not bound by the municipal court’s findings of law or fact, it must “give due…regard to the opportunity of the [municipal court] to judge the credibility of the witnesses,” according to the New Jersey Supreme Court 1964 ruling in State v. Johnson.

In cases involving alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, prosecutors must prove all of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The New Jersey DWI statute states that a person commits an offense when they operate a vehicle “while under the influence” of drugs or alcohol. Prosecutors can prove this through testimony, such as by having the arresting officer testify about their observations of the defendant’s appearance or behavior, or through the defendant’s performance on field sobriety tests (FSTs). New Jersey evidence rules govern the ways prosecutors may introduce evidence of defendants’ performance on these tests at trial.

Accepted Field Sobriety Tests

Legal News GavelThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has created standard procedures for three FSTs. New Jersey courts accept the use of two of the three tests in DWI investigations: the “One Leg Stand” and the “Walk and Turn”. HGN has not been held relaible to measure or check for intoxication, since there are 40 or more other causes of nystagmus in addition to intoxication.

Legal News GavelUnder the laws of New Jersey, driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a motor vehicle offense, rather than a criminal offense. A DWI proceeding still resembles a criminal case in many ways. Just as in a criminal case, prosecutors have the burden of proving every element of the offense of DWI beyond a reasonable doubt. DWI trials in New Jersey take place in municipal courts, with the municipal judge hearing the evidence and reaching a verdict. Prosecutors can introduce various forms of evidence, including certain actions and statements by a defendant that indicate a “consciousness of guilt.” Evidence that a defendant believed themselves to be guilty is not enough, by itself, for a conviction, but it can provide strong support for the state’s case. New Jersey courts have developed a series of rules regarding consciousness of guilt in criminal cases in general, and in DWI cases in particular.

Many criminal statutes include a particular mental state, known as mens rea, or “guilty mind,” as an element of the offense that the state must prove. Perhaps the most well-known example is the legal difference between murder and manslaughter. The offense of murder requires proof that a defendant acted with intent, meaning that they intended to kill their victim. Manslaughter involves reckless or negligent conduct by a defendant that results in someone’s death. Evidence of “consciousness of guilt” can support the state’s theory about a defendant’s “guilty mind.” The New Jersey Supreme Court reviewed some types of evidence of consciousness of guilt in a 1993 ruling, State v. Mann. Fleeing or escaping from custody for the purpose of “avoid[ing] accusation [and]…prosecution,” the court held, could be evidence of consciousness of guilt.

The New Jersey DWI statute’s definition of the offense makes no mention of mens rea. The state does not have to prove that a defendant intended to commit DWI, or even that they knew that they were impaired. Municipal judges may still infer consciousness of guilt from certain acts by DWI defendants. State law requires DWI suspects to provide breath samples to police, and it treats refusal as a distinct offense. In certain circumstances, refusal to submit to breath testing could also serve as evidence of consciousness of guilt. The New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a defendant’s refusal was admissible as evidence in a DWI trial in State v. Tabisz in 1974. The New Jersey Supreme Court further affirmed this in 1987 in State v. Stever.

Legal News GavelIn 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.

Legal News GavelNew Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute allows the state to prove that a defendant was impaired by alcohol with the results of blood alcohol content (BAC) testing. A BAC of 0.08 percent or higher creates a legal presumption of impairment. Police can determine BAC by testing a sample of breath, blood, or urine. Breath testing is considered to be the least intrusive. Blood and urine tests must follow the rules established by the Fourth Amendment for searches. A defendant can challenge the admissibility of BAC evidence by establishing a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision specifically addressed warrantless blood draws in DWI cases. The New Jersey Appellate Division cited that decision earlier this year in State v. Smijean, reversing a DWI conviction that involved BAC evidence from a warrantless blood draw.

Breath testing for BAC requires a person to blow into a tube attached to a testing device commonly known as a breathalyzer. Most New Jersey police departments use a device known as an Alcotest. Submission of a breath sample is mandatory for anyone who drives on a public road in New Jersey, and refusal to submit a breath sample upon request by law enforcement is a separate motor vehicle offense.

Since breath testing only requires blowing into a tube, it is not considered a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. Blood testing, however, is considered intrusive enough to fall under the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless searches. Drawing a person’s blood therefore requires that person’s consent or a warrant issued by a judge. In a general sense, police may be able to conduct a search without a warrant if they can establish that “exigent circumstances” made it impractical to obtain a warrant first, usually because of the risk of loss or destruction of evidence. How this exception applies in DWI cases has been a matter of dispute.

Legal News GavelIf you have been charged with alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, numerous different defenses are potentially available to you, depending on the facts of your particular case. The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that they must present solid evidence of every element of the offense described in the DWI statute. New Jersey treats DWI as a traffic offense, and it is important to understand how DWI cases can differ from criminal cases as a result. Some defenses that are available in criminal prosecutions are not necessarily available in a DWI case. The New Jersey Supreme Court has held, for example, that the “entrapment” defense is not available to DWI defendants.

“Entrapment” involves a claim that law enforcement encouraged or induced a defendant to commit an offense they would not otherwise have committed. The U.S. Supreme Court stated in a 1992 decision, Jacobson v. United States, that the government cannot “originate a criminal design, implant in an innocent person’s mind the disposition to commit a criminal act, and then induce commission of the crime” in order to prosecute that crime. Courts place an emphasis on the defendant’s “innocence.” In order to overcome an entrapment defense, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was already “disposed to commit the criminal act” before government agents came to them with the idea.

The New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether a defendant charged with DWI could raise a “quasi-entrapment” defense in State v. Fogarty, also in 1992. At the very beginning of its decision, the court describes the defense theory as “novel.” According to the opinion, the defendant was attending a wedding reception on the night of his arrest. Since he had been drinking, he had arranged for someone to drive him home and for someone else to drive his truck home.

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Legal News GavelIndividuals charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey municipal courts can raise numerous possible defenses against the state’s charges. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for example, allows defendants to challenge the basis for a traffic stop that led to a DWI charge. If a court finds that the stop violated the defendant’s rights, it must suppress any evidence obtained as a result of that stop. This usually results in the dismissal of the case. Defendants can also challenge the validity of the state’s evidence, such as Alcotest results. Some defenses that are available in criminal cases in New Jersey may also be available in DWI cases, but since New Jersey treats DWI as a motor vehicle offense, their availability is limited. A recent decision by a Texas court shows how the defense of “involuntary intoxication” could apply in a DWI case. New Jersey, however, does not currently allow this defense.

The New Jersey DWI statute defines the offense as operating a motor vehicle while “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs, or with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. Most criminal statutes require proof that a defendant had a certain mental state, such as an intent to commit that specific offense or recklessness as to the criminal nature of their actions. This is known to lawyers as mens rea. New Jersey’s DWI statute makes no mention of intent or any other mental state. While court decisions have delved further into the issue of mens rea in DWI cases, the statute only requires proof that a defendant was intoxicated or impaired.

The affirmative defense of “involuntary intoxication” allows a defendant to challenge the “intent” element of many criminal offenses by showing that the intoxication was either “not self-induced” or was “pathological.” The statute defines “pathological” as being far in excess of what would ordinarily be expected for the amount of intoxicant consumed by the defendant. Since it is an affirmative defense, the defendant has the burden of proving it by “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a lesser burden of proof than the state’s burden of proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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