When a driver is charged with the traffic offense of driving while intoxicated in New Jersey, there will be many concerns as to what will happen next. The penalties for DWI are harsh and include fines, a driver’s license suspension, surcharges and possible jail time. Depending on the circumstances and the number of times a driver has been arrested for DWI, the penalties can grow to be significant.
One of the linchpins for the DWI case is the testimony of the arresting officer. If there is a flaw in the procedures for making the arrest or the officer doesn’t adhere to the rules that law enforcement must follow, it’s possible that this can lead to the charges being reduced or dismissed.
Procedures For A DWI Stop And Arrest
Drivers in New Jersey are not allowed to drive after consuming a certain amount of alcohol. If a driver who is 21 or over has a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or above, there will be an arrest for DWI. If the driver is under 21, the level is 0.01%. If it is a commercial driver, the BAC is 0.04%.
Much like drivers have to follow the law, law enforcement officers have procedures they must follow to make the arrest legal. For example, when a stop is made, there must be a justifiable reason for making it. An officer is not allowed to stop a vehicle on a whim. If a law is broken or the vehicle is moving erratically, that’s enough for the officer to make the traffic stop.
When the officer investigates, signs of intoxication will be looked for. These can include glassy eyes, the smell of alcohol and slurred speech. After that, field sobriety tests will be given. These will include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, the Walk and Turn test and the One-Leg Stand test. Next will be the breathalyzer test. It is required that the officer observe the driver for 20 uninterrupted minutes to ensure that nothing is done to compromise the accuracy of the test. Smoking a cigaretted, chewing gum or regurgitating are examples of ways in which the test could be rendered inaccurate. If the driver surpasses the legal limit for BAC, there will be a DWI arrest.
If a driver is convicted for a first offense of the traffic offense of DWI with a BAC of 0.08% to less than 0.10%, there will be driver’s license suspension of three months. The driver will be fined between $250 and $400. There might be up to 30 days in jail. There will be a $230 charge for the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). $75 will go to the Neighborhood Services Fund. $100 each will go to the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF) and the drunk driving fund. There will be surcharges of $1,000 per year for three years. With subsequent DWI charges and higher BAC levels, the charges will increase.
How Police Testimony Can Be Handled At Trial
Most people will automatically believe that a police officer followed the proper procedures when making the DWI arrest and is telling the complete truth on the stand. Whether through memory lapses, mistakes or willful altering of the facts, even a law enforcement officer can give misleading or inaccurate testimony in a DWI case. When a defense attorney catches these mistakes, they can be pointed out and used to help a DWI defendant be acquitted.
A key to a DWI arrest being valid is that the officer is properly trained in police procedures and follows through on the arrest as it should be done. For example, an officer must be certified to give a breathalyzer test. If there is no up-to-date certification, the evidence could be deemed inadmissible. An officer who is not following the procedure as it’s laid out could be called upon it in court by an experienced DWI attorney.
When the traffic stop is made, there are many rules the officer must follow. Starting from the initial stop, if any of these are violated by the police, the charges might not stand up. The officer can’t stop a vehicle on a whim. There must be a reason for it. When the field sobriety tests are given, there’s a possibility that there was a legitimate reason for the defendant to have performed poorly such as a medical condition or the test being given in an unfair manner. If the Walk and Turn test is given on a rocky, graded area with holes in the ground, the argument could be made that no one – sober or drunk – could complete the test adequately.
There are many reasons that an officer’s testimony could be questioned. Whether it’s an inadvertent error or an attempt to cover up a mistake made to secure the conviction, a lawyer who catches the error and points it out can get a defendant’s charges dismissed or reduced.