In prosecutions for alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey, the state must prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Municipal court judges determine whether prosecutors have met their burden of proof when a case goes to trial. Last year, the New Jersey Appellate Division considered a defendant’s claim that a police officer’s failure to record video of her field sobriety tests (FSTs) should weigh in her favor. The court’s ruling in State v. Belko is a reminder that New Jersey gives prosecutors rather wide latitude in the types of evidence they may use in DWI cases.
The New Jersey DWI statute allows prosecutors to prove impairment by demonstrating that a defendant had blood alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent, or by showing other evidence that they were “under the influence” of alcohol, narcotics, or other drugs. This could include a defendant’s performance on FSTs, their appearance or demeanor, or testimony from an officer trained in drug recognition.
Municipal judges must weight the credibility of eyewitness and expert testimony in DWI trials. This often requires subjective determinations of how a witness appears in court. As video recording becomes increasingly common, thanks in part to near-ubiquitous smartphones, more and more arrests and other incidents are recorded by one or more people. These videos sometimes serve to challenge the official story from one (or both) sides. Video evidence is often admissible in court, but the Belko case addressed the question of whether video evidence should be required.