Articles Posted in Refusal

soap bubbleNew Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute allows prosecutors to use several methods to try to prove that a defendant was too impaired to operate a vehicle. One of these methods requires test results showing that a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.08 percent or higher, the so-called “legal limit” for DWI. This is the preferred method for most prosecutors, and New Jersey law helps facilitate the collection of BAC evidence. Refusal to submit to a breath test is a separate traffic offense alongside DWI, punishable by a fine and license suspension. Courts have expanded the scope of the refusal statute beyond merely refusing even to attempt to provide a breath sample. The Alcotest device used by New Jersey police to measure BAC requires a sizeable sample, and a refusal charge can result from not trying hard enough. The New Jersey Appellate Division reviewed this sort of situation recently in its decision in State v. Hernandez.

Under New Jersey law, anyone operating a motor vehicle on a public road is deemed to have given their consent to providing a breath sample to police upon suspicion of DWI. This “implied consent” law overrides any concerns about Fourth Amendment rights against warrantless searches or Fifth Amendment rights regarding testifying against oneself. A conviction for a first refusal offense can result in a license suspension for seven months to one year. For a second offense, the period of suspension is two years. A 10-year license suspension comes with a third or subsequent conviction. Fines range from a minimum of $600 for a first offense to a maximum of $2,000 for a third or subsequent offense.

New Jersey police use a device known as the Alcotest 7110 MK III-C to measure BAC. A New Jersey Supreme Court decision from 2008, State v. Chun, established various standards and procedures for the Alcotest. The device requires a minimum sample size to ensure consistency and, to the greatest extent possible, accuracy. Most people must breathe into the device enough to produce 1.5 liters of air, although for women over the age of 60, this minimum amount is lowered to 1.2 liters. They must also breathe into the device for at least four and a half seconds, something that may not be possible for some people. Courts have attempted to distinguish between people who are incapable of providing a sufficient breath sample and those who could provide a sample but do not do so.

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iPhone 5SThe Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right against self-incrimination. The extent of this protection is not always clear, however, and the right to refuse to provide information to police has limits. In driving while intoxicated (DWI) investigations, suspects are often asked to provide breath samples for chemical testing. The evidence obtained from breath testing can provide the state with nearly all of the information it needs to bring a DWI charge. In New Jersey DWI cases, providing a breath sample is actually mandatory under the law. Is this the sort of self-incrimination covered by the Fifth Amendment? A long line of court decisions says that no, it is not, but understanding why may be helpful in understanding the rights a DWI defendant does have.

Under New Jersey law, a refusal to submit a breath sample for chemical testing, upon a request by police, is a motor vehicle offense punishable by a fine and a driver’s license suspension. New Jersey courts have imposed strict requirements for submitting to breath testing. Anything other than unambiguous agreement could constitute refusal. A 2007 decision from the New Jersey Appellate Division, State v. Spell, held that a DWI suspect has no right to request testing after they have already refused. In that case, the defendant claimed he was having chest pains and could not provide a breath sample, but he told an officer he was feeling better after a hour. He offered to submit a sample at that time, but the officer “declined because defendant had already refused.”

The Fifth Amendment states that “no person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” This applies to sworn testimony in a court of law, which is where we get the term “pleading the Fifth.” It also protects the “right to remain silent” during custodial police interrogations, which generally means after a person has been placed under arrest and advised of their rights. In most situations, a person must affirmatively state that they are invoking their right against self-incrimination, or else police may continue questioning them.

Interrogation Room at Alcatraz IslandWhen police detain and question a person on suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI), the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect that person’s rights. The Fourteenth Amendment officially extended most of the Bill of Rights to state-level law enforcement, meaning that local police are subject to the same constraints as the federal government. In the context of New Jersey DWI cases, the Fourth Amendment states that police cannot detain someone, such as by pulling over their vehicle, without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The Fifth Amendment states that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against themselves, and limits the state’s ability to use certain statements made by defendants against them in court. Exactly when this right against self-incrimination applies has been a matter of ongoing dispute in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has made several rulings specifically addressing incriminating statements in DWI cases.

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case addressing the right against self-incrimination during police interrogation is Miranda v. Arizona, decided in 1966. Information obtained by police from a person, after they have invoked their “right to remain silent” during “custodial interrogation,” is inadmissible in court. While people can refuse to answer police questions at almost any time, Miranda obligates police to advise people of their rights in specific scenarios. Many subsequent court decisions have found that Miranda only applies once a person has been formally placed under arrest and read this list of rights. Whether a person is “under arrest” during a traffic stop is a complicated question.

Police do not typically give Miranda warnings to DWI suspects at the beginning of a traffic stop. Still, officers may ask questions of a driver, and ask the driver to perform field sobriety tests. With some exceptions, courts do not consider this to be a “custodial interrogation” within the meaning of Miranda. Police are therefore not obligated to advise people of their Miranda rights at this point, placing the burden of invoking the right against self-incrimination on the driver.
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question markNew Jersey’s implied consent law states that a person who operates a motor vehicle on the public streets and highways of this state is deemed to have consented to providing breath samples during investigations of suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI). Prior to collecting a breath sample in this situation, a police officer must read a “Standard Statement” explaining the law and the consequences of refusing to submit a sample. Penalties for refusal can include license suspension, monetary fines, and the use of an ignition interlock device. A defendant appealed his refusal conviction under the “confusion doctrine,” which the New Jersey Supreme Court described in a 1987 decision, State v. Leavitt. The Appellate Division rejected this argument in June 2016 in State v. Byrne, holding that the “confusion doctrine” only applies to refusal cases in very limited circumstances.

Law enforcement officers throughout the country are required to read a list of rights to a person during or shortly after their arrest. The U.S. Supreme Court established this obligation in its 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. This list of rights, which begins with the familiar phrase “You have the right to remain silent,” is commonly known as “Miranda rights.” The process of reading those rights to someone is sometimes called “Mirandizing” them.

The Standard Statement used in DWI arrests in New Jersey is significantly different from the Miranda statement. While the Miranda statement discusses an individual’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination—i.e., the “right to remain silent”—and the right to representation by an attorney, the Standard Statement says that these rights do not apply with regard to the taking of a breath sample.

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Supreme CourtThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” by police, requiring them first to obtain a warrant from a judge. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a Fourth Amendment challenge to state laws regarding “implied consent,” by which anyone operating a motor vehicle on that state’s public roads is considered to have consented to breath testing in investigations of suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI). Unlike New Jersey’s implied consent statute, the statutes at issue, from Minnesota and North Dakota, impose criminal penalties, including jail time, for refusing to submit to breath testing. The court’s eventual decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota is still likely to have an impact on New Jersey DWI law.

Evan Levow, President of the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA), was part of the amicus team from DUIDLA that submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in this case.

New Jersey law defines refusal as a traffic offense, which is generally not subject to as great a penalty as a criminal offense. A New Jersey refusal conviction results in a license suspension and a fine, but no jail time. For a first conviction, the period of license suspension is seven months to one year, and the fine is $300 to $500. This increases to two years’ suspension and a $500 to $1,000 fine for a second offense, and 10 years and $1,000 for a third or subsequent conviction. Penalties are further increased if an offense occurred in the vicinity of a school.

The North Dakota statute being challenged in Birchfield includes refusal in its definition of DWI, making it a misdemeanor or felony offense to refuse “a chemical test, or tests, of the individual’s blood, breath, or urine.” New Jersey’s law, it is worth noting, only requires breath testing. The penalty for a first offense does not appear to include jail time, but a second offense carries a mandatory minimum of 10 days in jail. A felony offense includes “at least one year and one day’s imprisonment.”

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Rob Pongsajapan [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)], via FlickrA Texas city is facing a major backlog of blood samples collected in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. San Antonio subjects DWI suspects to mandatory blood draws if they refuse to submit a breath sample. Police use breath or blood samples to determine blood alcohol content (BAC). A BAC level of 0.08 percent or higher is legally presumed to be evidence of intoxication, although BAC evidence is not always essential to a prosecutor’s case. The backlog does not appear to be causing a delay in pending DWI cases, at least according to local prosecutors. The U.S. Constitution, however, guarantees defendants a right to a speedy trial, so backlogs in the processing of evidence are always cause for concern.

Bexar County, Texas, whose jurisdiction includes San Antonio, had a contract with a private laboratory to test blood samples in DWI cases. The District Attorney (DA) canceled the contract shortly after taking office in early 2015. A series of documentation errors by the laboratory called hundreds of DWI cases into question. This included the alleged mislabeling of up to 350 blood samples, first discovered in 2014. The county now faces a backlog of over 1,000 samples, with no efficient means of testing them.

New Jersey DWI law, we should note, differs from Texas law with regard to blood draws. Multiple Texas cities have enacted “no refusal” policies that mandate blood draws from all DWI suspects who refuse a breath test. San Antonio expanded this policy from weekend traffic stops to all traffic stops in 2011. New Jersey drivers are subject to the implied consent statute for breath testing, meaning that anyone driving on New Jersey roads has, solely by virtue of driving, consented to providing a breath sample to a police officer who suspects DWI. This statute does not apply to blood samples. Police may still compel a person in New Jersey to submit a blood sample without a warrant, however, in certain circumstances.

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By Eric Kilby from USA (YAWN  Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in State v. Chun is one of the most important decisions affecting the rights of DWI defendants in this state. It caused major changes in how the state uses Alcotest machines to collect breath samples from DWI suspects. Chun also established mandatory procedures that safeguard DWI suspects against inaccurate test results, including a 20-minute waiting period prior to a breath test. In some situations, however, an individual could open themselves up to a charge of refusal to submit to a breath test, if an officer concludes that they are intentionally stalling.

Chun established that an officer must wait 20 minutes before collecting breath samples from a suspect, in order to ensure that no foreign substances are present in or around the suspect’s mouth that could affect the test results. During this time, the officer who will administer the test must observe the suspect to see if they place anything in their mouth, or if they swallow or regurgitate anything. If the officer notices anything entering or exiting the person’s mouth, notices that the person has gum or chewing tobacco in their mouth, or sees the person touch their mouth with their hand or any other object, the 20-minute observation period must start over.

This waiting period could come into conflict with New Jersey laws regarding implied consent to breath or blood testing. An individual who is instructed to provide a breath sample based on probable cause to suspect DWI may face a separate charge for refusal if they give anything short of total cooperation to the officer. Courts have sustained refusal convictions in cases where individuals failed to submit enough of a sample for the device to conduct an accurate test, and even cases in which a defendant agreed to submit a breath sample but tried to add a condition for doing so. This raises the question of whether a New Jersey DWI defendant could face a refusal charge for requiring multiple re-starts of the 20-minute Chun observation period.

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By Reid, Jim P, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsNew Jersey law contains two different, but related, provisions related to driving while intoxicated (DWI). The DWI statute addresses the actual alleged act of driving while under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance. The refusal statute deals with drivers who refuse to submit to breath or blood testing to determine the amount of alcohol in their bloodstreams. State law requires police to read a statement to a suspect regarding the consequences of refusing to submit to chemical testing. A recent court decision, State v. Peralta, clarifies whether a failure to read that statement requires a court to dismiss any resulting charges. An unpublished court decision from about four years ago, State v. Tirado, suggested that such failure requires dismissal of all charges, even DWI, but Peralta holds that it only affects the outcome of a refusal charge. Peralta effectively overrules Tirado, which offered a loophole as a sort of defense in DWI cases.

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission has issued a “Standard Statement for Operators of a Motor Vehicle” (“Standard Statement”), which police must recite to a suspect before administering a blood or breath test. Refusal to submit to testing may result in license suspension, a fine, and other penalties. Courts have generally held that reading the Standard Statement is required to obtain a conviction for refusal, but Tirado, a 2010 decision by the Superior Court, Appellate Division, expanded this to a DWI case. The court found that the state had not proven that an officer read the Standard Statement to the defendant before administering a breathalyzer test and partly reversed the defendant’s DWI conviction as a result. Since the decision is unpublished, it is not binding authority in other DWI cases, but it has come up in cases where police made similar omissions.

In Peralta, a municipal judge convicted the defendant of DWI based on evidence from a breathalyzer test that showed 0.19 percent blood alcohol content (BAC), more than twice the legal limit. The defendant, who was not charged with refusal, appealed the DWI conviction in part based on the failure by police to read the Standard Statement before administering the breath test. The court noted that the defendant relied on an unpublished case in making his argument but does not identify the case. It held that the failure to read the Standard Statement was not relevant to the DWI case. Continue reading

geralt [Public domain, CC0 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via PixabayA recent decision by the Superior Court of New Jersey, State v. O’Neill, highlights two important features of New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws. First, the court held that, under New Jersey’s implied consent law, any response other than an unambiguous “yes” to an officer’s request to submit to breath testing may be deemed a refusal. Even verbal consent by a person to breath testing, as long as her mother remained with her, could be considered “refusal” under this interpretation of the law. Second, state law requires officers to read a statement regarding implied consent and refusal, and as long as an officer reads the statement prior to taking a breath sample, the state has fulfilled its duty under the law. This applies even if the statement omits information any defendant might reasonably find useful.

The defendant was stopped by a police officer in Bernard Township, New Jersey on January 19, 2013, allegedly for speeding. The officer determined that she had consumed alcohol before driving, although the court does not say how. After placing her under arrest and transporting her to police headquarters, the officer read the New Jersey Attorney General’s Standard Statement for Motor Vehicle Operators (the “Standard Statement”) aloud to her. The defendant responded that she would agree to testing if her mother could be with her. Because this response was “conditional,” rather than “yes,” the officer read the final section of the Standard Statement, which states that she could be charged with refusal for any answer “other than ‘yes.’” The defendant replied “no.”

The officer charged the defendant with DWI, refusal to submit to breath testing, speeding, and failing to produce documentation. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the refusal charge in the municipal court, arguing that the state did not fulfill its statutory duties because it failed to advise her of the minimum penalties if she were to be convicted of refusal. The municipal court denied her motion. The defendant pleaded guilty to DWI, and entered a conditional plea of guilty to refusal, reserving her right to appeal the dismissal motion. The Law Division denied her appeal, and the case went before the Superior Court. Continue reading

By GrahamColm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsA decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last year limits the ability of police to take a blood sample from a DWI suspect without consent or a warrant. Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S.Ct. 1552 (2013). The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, and generally requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before searching private property. Police can claim “exigent circumstances” to justify a warrantless search, meaning that in a specific emergency situation, they cannot take the time to obtain a warrant. The McNeely case addressed claims by police that the human body’s process of metabolizing alcohol was an exigent circumstance that justified taking a blood sample without a warrant. In response to the decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court has modified its procedures for search warrant requests to ensure that judges are available to issue warrants.

The defendant in McNeely was stopped by a highway patrolman for speeding. The officer claims that defendant did not perform well in a field sobriety test, and he refused a breath test. En route to the police station, the defendant refused a breath test again, so the officer diverted to a hospital and directed a hospital technician to take a blood sample. The defendant did not consent to having blood drawn, and the officer did not obtain a warrant. Lab testing showed blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.154 percent, almost twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The state charged the defendant with driving while intoxicated, but the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. It held that the warrantless blood test violated his Fourth Amendment rights. When the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the decision, the U.S. Supreme Court took the case in order to resolve a conflict with its own prior decision in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757 (1966). That case held that an officer might reasonably conclude that the breakdown of alcohol in the bloodstream constituted “exigent circumstances,” id. at 770-71, but limited its holding to the specific circumstances of the case. In McNeely, the court rejected establishing a “per se rule” that alcohol metabolism justifies a warrantless blood test. 133 S.Ct. at 1561. Continue reading