The State’s Burden of Proof in New Jersey DWI Cases: “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
The U.S. Constitution protects people’s rights in court proceedings, particularly cases that can result in jail time and other punishments. This includes driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases in New Jersey and around the country. The Due Process Clauses of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as interpreted by the courts, require prosecutors to prove a defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the toughest burden of proof in our legal system. While DWI is a motor vehicle offense in New Jersey, not a criminal offense, a conviction can lead to significant penalties. The same due process protections apply to DWIs and other motor vehicle cases. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a highly subjective standard, but it can be the key to defending against a DWI charge.
What Is a Burden of Proof?
In any court proceeding, someone is responsible for establishing a legal claim and providing supporting evidence. This responsibility is known as the burden of proof. Plaintiffs generally have the burden of proof in a civil lawsuit, and prosecutors have it in criminal and motor vehicle cases.
The person with the burden of proof must convince the judge about their legal claims. Since DWI cases in New Jersey do not have jury trials, the judge also decides whether the state has met its burden of proving the facts.
Our legal system has two main burdens of proof. In order to understand “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it helps to describe both of them.
Preponderance of Evidence
In civil lawsuits, a plaintiff has to prove that their legal and factual claims are more likely than not to be correct. Another way of saying this is that a plaintiff must show that it is at least fifty-one percent likely that their allegations are true.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The burden of proof in DWI cases is much stricter. The state must convince a judge that no other reasonable explanations exist for the evidence they have presented.
What Does “Reasonable Doubt” Mean?
Requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt in DWI proceedings protects defendants’ rights by requiring the state to build an extensive, well-documented case. The actual meaning of “reasonable doubt” remains highly subjective, though.
When a case goes to trial, the outcome may depend on the individual judge’s understanding of what “reasonable doubt” means. A major part of a DWI attorney’s job at trial is to identify every flaw or problem in the prosecution’s case and show the judge that the state’s story is not the only reasonable explanation.
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt in DWI Cases
A prosecutor in a New Jersey DWI case has the burden of proving every element of the offense, as defined by the statute, beyond a reasonable doubt.
– “Operates a motor vehicle”: The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving or was about to drive.
– “Under the influence…”: Prosecutors must prove that the defendant was impaired by certain substances, including alcohol or various drugs.
– Blood alcohol content (BAC): The state may also prove impairment by showing that a defendant’s BAC was 0.08 percent or higher near the time that they were driving. This requires proof that the Alcotest device was in working order and the test results are reliable.
If you have been charged with alleged DWI in a New Jersey municipal court, you need a skilled and experienced advocate to guide you through the court system and fight for your rights. Please contact DWI attorney Evan Levow today online or at (877) 593-1717 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.