New Jersey DWI Arrests, Part 1: Traffic Stops

The most common conception of a DWI arrest in the popular imagination is, perhaps, one that takes place after an officer pulls over a car based on suspicion that the driver is intoxicated or otherwise impaired. This accounts for many DWI arrests, but it is by no means the only way a person could find themselves facing DWI charges. In this series of posts, we will review the various ways police may make an arrest for suspected DWI.

Traffic Stops on Suspicion of DWI

Police officers are legally authorized to stop a vehicle and question its driver if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the process of committing a crime, has recently committed a crime, or is preparing to commit a crime in the near future. This is commonly known as a “Terry stop,” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Terry v. Ohio.

An officer can claim reasonable suspicion of DWI based on alleged indicators like the inability to stay in a lane of traffic, weaving between lanes of traffic, colliding with other vehicles or roadside objects, and generally erratic driving. It can even include overly cautious driving in some situations, although that could also merely be an indicator that the driver is transporting something fragile.

Traffic Stops Based on Other Observations by Officer

A DWI arrest can result from any traffic stop, not just ones in which DWI was the initial basis for reasonable suspicion, provided the officer finds probable cause during the course of the stop to suspect DWI. If an officer stops a vehicle because of an illegal turn or an expired registration sticker, for example, the officer could still find probable cause for DWI based on the officer’s alleged observations of slurred speech or other signs of intoxication, or the alleged odor of alcohol.

The U.S. Supreme Court set an important limit on traffic stops, however, in Rodriguez v. United States, finding that an officer may not prolong a traffic stop beyond the amount of time reasonably necessary for its original purpose. In that case, an officer pulled the defendant over for swerving out of his lane, but he continued to detain him while waiting for a drug-sniffing dog to arrive.

Traffic Stops Based on Third-Party Tips

Police may stop a vehicle based on information received from a third party, such as a 911 caller. This can present a difficult situation, both for the officer and the person being stopped. Ideally, the officer would have a license plate number, or at least a detailed description of the vehicle. The third-party informant should have provided information on where the vehicle was and the direction in which it was headed.

In this type of case, the justification for the stop comes from something other than the officer’s own observations and impressions. An officer may stop a vehicle that matches the description provided but that is not the correct vehicle. It is critical to obtain as much information as possible about the information provided to police to see how much the vehicle they stopped actually resembles the one described by the informant.

If you have been accused of DWI in New Jersey, you need the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced DWI attorney to help you put on the best possible defense. We have dedicated 100% of our practice at Levow DWI Law, P.C. to defending New Jersey DWI cases. Contact us online or at (877) 975-3399 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Supreme Court Reverses Its Own Rule on Warrantless Car Searches, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 31, 2015

New Jersey Court Finds that “Marijuana Smell” Can Still Provide Probable Cause, Despite State’s Medical Marijuana Law, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, October 27, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Limits Police Authority During Traffic Stops, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, June 9, 2015

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