Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer and the vacation travel season. It can also mark the beginning of drunk driving season as people celebrate holidays and being away from work responsibilities.
In New Jersey, a person is guilty of drunk driving if they operate a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater. It is important to note that driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) are prosecuted the same under New Jersey law. The terms are often used interchangeably.
There is only one true way a person can avoid a DWI charge in New Jersey: Do not get behind the wheel if one has been drinking. But sometimes, a person may not feel intoxicated or may have another reason, such as driving a short distance, that they drive after consuming alcohol.
People are human, and mistakes happen. The hope is that no one drives drunk, but if they do, that they are pulled over before they hurt themselves or someone else.
As surprising as it may seem, a DWI charge does not automatically mean a guilty finding or the stiffest penalties. There are ways an experienced lawyer can challenge and defend persons charged with DWI.
How can a Lawyer Defend Me Against a Drunk Driving Charge on Memorial Day?
Every DWI charge has a unique set of circumstances. A criminal defense lawyer will analyze all of the circumstances, reports, evidence, and other facts in the case. After doing so, they can defend a person charged with DUI in any number of ways:
Inaccurate breathalyzer tests. Test results may be incorrect if there is a problem with the breathalyzer device or it has recently undergone repair. There may be improper device settings, failure of the device to recognize errors in testing, or timing issues.
There is also operator error to consider: an inexperienced operator may not administer the test correctly. Inaccurate breathalyzer results can render results inadmissible as evidence.
Unlicensed breathalyzer operator. In New Jersey, a breath test operator must possess a valid and unexpired operator’s license. Otherwise, the breath test is inadmissible. Breath test operator’s licenses expire every three years.
Improper stop. A law enforcement officer must have a reasonable and articulate reason to believe a law violation has occurred before stopping anyone operating a motor vehicle. In New Jersey, a driver has rights, so a DWI charge could be dismissed if those rights are violated.
Bad weather. Wind, low visibility, ice, and other conditions can sometimes explain poor driving or poor performance on field sobriety tests.
Inaccurate standardized field sobriety tests. Some standardized field sobriety tests have been proved to be under 70 percent accurate in detecting a BAC of 0.08 or more in healthy people. Older or obese people or those who have injuries or certain medical conditions may not reliably complete these tests.
Invalid nonstandard field sobriety tests. Sometimes law enforcement officers will ask a suspected drunk driver to recite the alphabet backward or touch their finger to their nose. These nonstandard tests are not recognized as valid by federal agencies.
Medical conditions and health problems. A person’s physical condition can affect the results of a DWI test on two fronts: The condition may make it difficult for a person to perform accurately on field sobriety tests, and it may skew breathalyzer results. Prescription or over-the-counter medications, diabetes, and some diets may also affect the validity of breath tests.
Substances that bias breathalyzer results. There have been instances in which a certain substance, often containing alcohol, has made breathalyzer results invalid. Substances can include mouthwash, asthma medications, chemicals, paint, and fingernail polish.
Videos or dispatch recordings. Many New Jersey DWI enforcement officers have cameras in their vehicles or on their bodies. Videos from testing rooms, booking rooms, and witnesses can also be used to determine what really happened at the scene.
Sometimes an officer’s account will not match the actual video or audio of the person being charged. A videotape can also determine whether officers correctly administered sobriety tests and how well the arrested person performed them. If video is not available, almost all traffic stops have audio recordings.
Failure to read the implied consent warning. In New Jersey, an officer conducting a DWI stop must read the driver the implied consent law before administering a breath test.
Not conducting the observation period. Results of breath testing may be excluded in court if law enforcement does not keep a person under observation for 20 minutes before performing a breath test.
Inaccurate blood testing. Police blood testing must follow prescribed rules concerning testing, analysis, and preservation. Medical facilities also have regulations regarding blood testing. Results of blood testing may be inadmissible if personnel do not follow any of the rules and regulations. There have also been cases in which a prep swab or lactated Ringer’s solution used in treatment has caused an inaccurate blood test.
Forced to give blood or urine. In New Jersey, a person suspected of DWI cannot be forced to give blood or urine samples. A refusal charge applies only to breathalyzer tests.
Witness statements contradict the police report. Witnesses to accidents, bartenders, and hospital personnel may provide testimony that can help prove a person’s sobriety.
Failure to provide a speedy trial or complete discovery. The state must conduct a DWI trial within 60 days, or the charges may be dismissed. In addition, if the prosecutor does not provide all the required evidence by a specific date, the charges may be dropped.
Expert witness testimony invalidates tests. Expert witnesses may review breath and blood tests and field sobriety tests. They may find that their results do not match those of law enforcement or medical personnel.
No proof of driving. Sometimes a person is charged with DWI while parked or after an accident. There must be concrete proof that the person accused was actually driving the vehicle for the charges to stick.
Drivers should note that not every test or circumstance of a DWI citation is cut-and-dried as it may seem. Everyone deserves a fair chance under the law.
Tips to Avoid Drunk Driving
Drunk driving is a serious offense and continues to be a leading cause of car accidents, injuries, and deaths in the United States. Following are tips to avoid drunk driving at holidays or any time of year:
- Have a plan. Those who know they will be drinking must plan for getting to their destination without driving.
- Designate a driver. When going out with others, it is wise to designate someone who will not drink to be the driver for the occasion.
- Use public transportation. Buses, subways, and taxis can get anyone who has been drinking where they want to go.
- Call a ridesharing service. Download apps on a person’s phone make it easy and quick to call a ride-sharing service.
- Call a friend or family member. Those who will be drinking should be wise enough to know when it is not a good idea to get behind the wheel. They should call someone who cares to pick them up.
- Stay the night. If drinking at someone’s house, guests can ask to stay the night if they feel impaired in any way.
- Take the keys. People should be responsible for themselves as well as friends and family. A friend should take the keys from anyone who has been drinking to excess.
Monmouth County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Challenge Drunk Driving Charges
No one should get behind the wheel after drinking. But it happens. If it does and you are charged, contact the Monmouth County criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law. We have the expertise needed to successfully challenge DWI charges, often getting the charges dropped or reduced. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.