Attorneys representing people charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey municipal courts can use pretrial motions to give their clients a better chance of achieving a positive outcome. A motion to suppress evidence is one of the most powerful pretrial motions a lawyer can use. It seeks to prevent the state from using evidence obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights. If successful, a motion to suppress limits the amount of evidence that prosecutors may introduce in court. It may even result in the dismissal of the DWI charge.
What Is a Motion to Suppress?
A motion to suppress is based on the “exclusionary rule.” The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires police to obtain a warrant before searching a person or their property, with some exceptions. If police conduct a search that violates a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, the exclusionary rule blocks prosecutors from using that evidence at trial.
The exclusionary rule applies to any evidence that police could only obtain through an unlawful search. This evidence is known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
Motions to Suppress in DWI Cases
DWI attorneys often use motions to suppress to challenge the initial stop of a defendant’s vehicle by police. They may also use them to dispute the validity or admissibility of chemical test results, including results from Alcotest devices.
Unlawful Traffic Stop
One exception to the Fourth Amendment’s search warrant requirement is known as a Terry stop, named for a 1968 Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio. Police may briefly detain a person without a warrant if they have reasonable suspicion of unlawful activity. This applies to traffic stops when police have reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation or other unlawful act.
An officer who witnesses a driver speeding or running a red light has reasonable suspicion that would allow a Terry stop. A traffic stop made without reasonable suspicion could violate the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights.
A motion to suppress that successfully challenges an officer’s reasonable suspicion can result in the dismissal of the entire DWI case. If the officer had no legal justification for stopping the defendant’s car, then all of the evidence obtained from that stop is tainted as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” That could include the officer’s testimony about the defendant’s appearance, the defendant’s performance on field sobriety tests, and the results of chemical testing. With all of the state’s evidence suppressed, the court would have to dismiss the charge.
Improper Breath Test
A 2008 New Jersey Supreme Court decision, State v. Chun, established strict procedures for how police must conduct breath testing using Alcotest devices, and how they must maintain and calibrate those devices. Prosecutors have the burden of proving that the police followed all the required procedures.
A motion to suppress could establish that police did not properly maintain the device or did not follow the Chun guidelines during the breath test. Without breath test evidence, the state might be limited to the arresting officer’s testimony about the defendant’s appearance or behavior.
DWI attorney Evan Levow advocates for the rights of people in New Jersey who are facing alleged DWI charges. He can discuss your rights and options, guide you through the court process, and prepare the best defense for your case. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.