How Does the State Prove “Intoxication” in New Jersey DWI Cases Involving Drugs Instead of Alcohol?

The criminal offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) is most often associated with alcohol, hence the term “drunk driving.” It is also an offense under New Jersey’s DWI statute to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of certain other drugs. While the statute determines the severity of a DWI offense involving alcohol based on several levels of blood alcohol content (BAC), it provides no similar guidance for other drugs. Courts have generally held that expert testimony is required to prove intoxication by certain types of drugs.

New Jersey’s DWI statute defines the offense, in part, as driving “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug,” or with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. The statute creates two tiers of alcohol intoxication for first offenders. The first tier includes people with a BAC of at least 0.08 percent but less than 0.10 percent, and the second tier includes people with a BAC of 0.10 percent or higher. The second tier also includes anyone under the influence of a “narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug,” regardless of the amount.

Breath tests are not effective at measuring the amount of drugs, as covered by the DWI statute, in a person’s blood stream. Police generally rely on blood or urine tests. Under New Jersey’s implied consent statute, anyone who drives on a public street or road within the state consents to giving samples of breath, blood, or urine for the purposes of enforcing the DWI statute. New Jersey courts have held that chemical test results, expert testimony, and layperson testimony are all relevant to the question of whether a person is “intoxicated” due to drugs.

The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division ruled in State v. Siegmeister in 1969 that the state has the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the state must prove intoxication due to one or more of the types of drugs identified in the DWI statute. The court noted that some “drugs” are neither “narcotic” nor “habit-forming,” and that they are therefore not covered by the statute.

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1975 opinion in State v. Tamburro held that testimony from an expert witness, which established that the defendant’s physical condition was consistent with narcotic intoxication, was sufficient to sustain a conviction. Essentially, the court ruled the state may prove intoxication through expert testimony, but it is not required to identify the specific drug or the specific amount. State v. Bealor, a 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court decision, involved expert testimony regarding chemical tests that revealed the presence of cannbis.

The Appellate Division addressed the problems with lay testimony in 1973’s State v. Tiernan. New Jersey courts have long held that lay testimony is sufficient to prove intoxication by alcohol, but the court held in Tiernan that this is not the case for drug intoxication. It built on the ruling in Siegmeister, holding that expert testimony is necessary to establish that the defendant was under the influence of a drug covered by the DWI statute, and that the defendant’s ability to drive was sufficiently impaired.

If you have been arrested or charged with DWI, you need the help of a qualified and skilled DWI attorney to advise you of your rights and plan the best possible defense. At Levow & Associates, we have dedicated 100% of our law practice to DWI defense. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, please contact us online or at (877) 975-3399.

More Blog Posts:

What Is the Current Status of the Alcotest Machine in New Jersey DWI Cases? New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 23, 2014

New Jersey’s DWI Statute Allows Prosecutors to Charge Passengers with DWI for “Permitting” Intoxicated Person to Drive, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 24, 2014

Courts Change Procedures for Issuing Warrants After Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Blood Testing of DWI Suspects, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, July 2, 2014

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