Drivers who are arrested for driving while intoxicated in New Jersey will have many things going through their minds from the time the traffic stop is made and all the way through the trial. It’s natural to feel fear when there are the potential penalties for a DWI conviction hanging over a person’s head. In many instances, the driver might feel compelled to simply plead guilty and get the case over with. In others, concerned about the financial cost of hiring an attorney, the driver might accept a public defender and not formulate as strong a defense as they would get from a private lawyer of their choosing. With the traffic offense of DWI and the consequences for a conviction, it is wise for a driver to think about hiring an attorney the moment the law enforcement officer is making the arrest.
Process For A DWI Stop And Arrest
Police officers are not allowed to stop a vehicle on suspicion of DWI simply because they have nothing better to do, don’t like the look of a vehicle or its driver. There must be a justifiable reason for the stop. This can include committing a traffic violation, speeding, weaving in and out of traffic and for many other reasons.
After the stop is made, the officer will interact with the driver and look for signs of DWI. If the driver is slurring words, has glassy eyes or smells of alcohol, that will lead to continuing the investigation for DWI. The driver will then be asked to take field sobriety tests. The Walk and Turn test, the One-Leg Stand test and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test will all be part of this process. Next will be the breathalyzer test.
The driver might believe that he or she has a right to refuse to take a breathalyzer test under a misplaced assumption that it is part of their constitutional rights. This is not the case. A driver is required to take a breathalyzer test when asked to do so by a law enforcement officer or face the charge of refusal. A conviction on refusal has similar penalties as a DWI conviction and even if the driver was not drunk, there will still likely be a conviction for refusal.
For the breath test, the officer must observe the driver for 20 consecutive minutes to ensure that nothing – regurgitation, smoking, chewing gum, eating candy – is done to compromise the accuracy of the test. When the test is given, the blood alcohol content will determine whether or not there will be an arrest. For drivers 21 and over, a BAC of 0.08% will result in an arrest. If the driver is under 21, the BAC is 0.01%. For a commercial driver, the BAC is 0.04%.
Penalties For DWI Conviction
If a driver is convicted of DWI, there will be numerous penalties. For a BAC of 0.08% and below 0.10%, the driver’s license will be suspended for three months. There will be an annual surcharge of $1,000 for three years. $230 will be paid to the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). $75 will go to the Neighborhood Services Fund. $100 will go to each of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Fund (AERF) and the drunk driving fund. There can be up to 30 days in jail. The penalties will be worse for subsequent DWI offenses and higher BAC levels.
Hiring A NJ DWI Lawyer
It is important to have quality legal representation as soon as possible in a DWI case. Do not settle for the cheapest lawyer who might not be the best qualified. The circumstances of the arrest must be fully investigated in order to ensure every aspect of the arrest is dissected for mistakes the officer might have made. For example, if the traffic stop was not justified, then the entire body of evidence accrued after it was made could be deemed inadmissible.
With the field sobriety tests, simply because a driver didn’t perform well on them doesn’t automatically imply he or she was drunk. There might have been a medical issue that prevented the driver from completing them in a manner that was consistent with sobriety. The area upon which the test was given could have been graded, strewn with rocks or have holes.
For the breathalyzer, the officer must be certified to give the test. The machine itself must be properly calibrated and recorded as such. When making the arrest, the officer must read the driver the Miranda rights. Failing to do so and accumulating evidence after that through questioning could be seen as a violation of the driver’s rights. Any failure to follow the protocol for a DWI arrest can lead to the charges being dropped.
A DWI lawyer will begin preparing a defense as soon as he or she is hired. This will include studying the police reports, the circumstances surrounding the arrest and the evidence in search of weak spots. The attorney will also make pretrial motions at the arraignment to try and have various portions of the evidence excluded, request information on the officer’s history, ask that the blood or urine tests be split and look into possible Miranda warning violations.
With the number of possible holes in a DWI case and the total lack of benefit a defendant will derive from pleading guilty without crafting a defense, it is imperative to hire an attorney at the first available opportunity after the arrest. It will help the defense immensely to do so.