Drivers who are stopped on suspicion for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey might be somewhat aware of the various tests they will be asked to take to determine whether or not they’ve been drinking. However, there are also factors that could influence how they perform on the tests and those factors could be used to try and have the charges dismissed or dropped if they are indeed arrested on DWI charges.
Process During A DWI Investigation
A law enforcement officer is not allowed to stop a vehicle without probable cause. If the traffic stop is made without reason, even if the driver is found to have been drinking and fails the field sobriety tests and breathalyzer test, the arrest could be nullified. If a driver is making dangerous moves, swerving in and out of traffic or breaking traffic laws, then the officer is permitted to make the stop and commence with a DWI investigation.
Once the investigation begins, the officer will ask the general innocuous questions that any traffic stop entails such as the request for the documentation for the driver and the vehicle in the form of the driver’s license and registration. While this is happening, the officer will be observing the driver for signals that he or she has been drinking. Slurring words, exhibiting bloodshot eyes or smelling of alcohol are obvious indications that will spur the officer to investigate more deeply.
Next there will be field sobriety tests. The three approved tests in New Jersey are the Walk and Turn test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test and the One Leg Stand test.
With Walk and Turn, the driver will be asked to walk in a straight line for nine steps and then walk back. If the person loses his or her balance or has trouble following the instructions, it could signal drunkenness.
The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus involves an object being placed in front of the subject’s face. This is usually a pen or a flashlight. The subject will be asked to follow it by only moving their eyes and the officer will look for involuntary jerking of the eyeball. This can be considered an indicator of being under the influence.
With the One Leg Stand test, the subject is asked to keep the hands at the sides and lift one leg six inches off the ground with toes pointing forward. Then he or she will be asked to count. Again, like the Walk and Turn test, the balance will be important and if the driver can’t maintain the position or has trouble counting, it is a sign of intoxication that will spark a continuing of the tests.
The breathalyzer test is next and will be given to determine the blood alcohol content (BAC). The officer must observe the driver for 20 uninterrupted minutes before the breathalyzer test is given to avoid anything that could compromise the accuract of the test. This can include chewing gum, smoking a cigarette or throwing up.
When the test is given, if a driver age 21 or over registers 0.08% or above, that will warrant an arrest. Drivers under 21 who register 0.01% will be arrested. Commercial drivers who register 0.04% will also be arrested.
Issues That Could Influence The Results Of DWI Tests
Although the above-listed testing procedures are recognized and approved by the state to warrant an arrest, there are still problems with them that could open the door for a defense attorney to call them into question. Some are inherent and others are based on the circumstances under which they’re given.
If a driver has physical problems that affect balance or is on some form of medication, that could cause inaccurate field sobriety tests. A driver’s eye movements could have been altered due to that physical issue and not be from the use of alcohol. A person who is overweight or has a leg injury might not be able to complete the Walk and Turn test or the One Leg Stand test sufficiently to pass them.
The weather and location are also factors. If it is a snowy, rainy or windy day, the driver might have been unable to complete the tests as requested due to the weather. If the area upon which the test was conducted is strewn with rocks, has holes in the ground or is on a slight incline, the balance could have been negatively affected.
When it comes to the breathalyzer test, there could be medical impediments such as asthma that stop a person from completing the test. A person might be taking certain forms of medication that can skew the breath test results. The officer might not have adhered to the 20 minute rule and the person could have done something to make the results come out differently than they would have if all procedures were followed.
Using Outside Factors In A Defense
A defense attorney will try to find a reasonable way to have the charges called into question. If any of the reasons described above happened while a DWI investigation was taking place, the attorney will reference them, give proof of their validity and try to establish reasonable doubt that the driver was committing a DWI. Depending on the circumstances, this could yield a positive result for the defendant and lead to a dismissal of the charges or an acquittal.