Testimony in New Jersey DWI Cases: The Hearsay Rule
In any case involving alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI) in a New Jersey municipal court, the state must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The New Jersey Rules of Evidence establish what kinds of evidence courts may consider, and what attorneys must do to get their evidence admitted. Testimony from various witnesses occurs in every trial. An important limitation on testimony during a trial is known as the “hearsay rule.” You may have heard this term if you watch any lawyer shows on television. What does the hearsay rule actually do, though? The following is an overview of the hearsay rule, and how it can help both sides in different ways in New Jersey DWI cases.
Evidence in New Jersey DWI Cases
New Jersey’s DWI statute allows prosecutors to prove that a defendant was impaired by alcohol or drugs in two ways. Both require testimony.
The state can have the arresting officer testify under oath about the defendant’s behavior or appearance at the time of their arrest. Perhaps, for example, the defendant was slurring their speech, or had bloodshot eyes.
Prosecutors can also show that a defendant’s blood alcohol content was 0.08 percent or more. A report from the Alcotest device is not enough, though. Under the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Chun, they must also produce evidence that the device had received proper maintenance and calibration. The records that demonstrate this are a form of testimony.
What Is Hearsay?
Hearsay is defined as a statement (1) made outside of court and (2) introduced into evidence “to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.” The second part of the definition may be unclear, so an example might help.
Suppose a police officer pulls over a driver and asks if they have been drinking. A passenger in the car replies “Oh yeah, he’s had twelve beers in the last hour.” Prosecutors cannot have the officer testify at trial about the passenger’s statement in order to prove that the driver had been drinking. That said, a clever prosecutor might be able to fit that statement into a hearsay exception.
Exceptions to the Hearsay Rule
New Jersey allows many exceptions to the hearsay rule. Several of them often come up in DWI cases.
Prior Inconsistent Statement
A witness’ own prior, out-of-court statement can be introduced, even if it is hearsay, if it contradicts their in-court testimony. Suppose the driver in the above hypothetical calls the passenger to testify that they had not been drinking that night. The prosecutor can then bring up the statement about the twelve beers.
Statement by Party-Opponent
A defendant’s own statements are, by definition, not hearsay. If a driver admits to a police officer that they had been drinking, they cannot object to the officer testifying about that statement.
A doctor’s out-of-court statement about a medical diagnosis may be admissible, despite the hearsay rule. This could include a statement about blood test results.
Records kept in the ordinary course of government business are not subject to the hearsay rule, as long as a witness can authenticate them. This includes records of Alcotest maintenance and calibration.
DWI attorney Evan Levow advocates for the rights of people in New Jersey who are facing alleged DWI charges. He can discuss your options with you, guide you through the court process, and prepare the best defense for the charges in your case. Please contact us online or at (877) 593-1717 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.