How New Jersey Defines Driving While Intoxicated
Unlike in many other states, a DWI in New Jersey is not classified as a misdemeanor or felony crime; it is instead considered a serious traffic violation. Since a DWI itself is not a criminal violation, people who are accused of drunk driving do not have the right to receive a jury trial. However, in order to be convicted of DWI under state law, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you violated all the necessary elements as laid out in the law.
The Element of Operation in a DWI Case
In order to prove that an accused person is guilty of driving while intoxicated, the state must show that he or she was operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol. This means that the first element that a prosecutor must show is that the accused person was actually operating the vehicle. It is not necessary for police to witness you driving in order to make this claim.
Prosecutors can use three methods to show that the defendant was driving the car:
- Eyewitness observation of the defendant driving while intoxicated
- Observation of the defendant inside or outside the car “under circumstances indicating that the defendant had been driving while intoxicated”
- Admission by the defendant of driving while intoxicated
The second method can allow for a great deal of circumstantial evidence and conclusions without direct eyewitness observation or an admission. In some cases, it can be apparent that a person drove drunk, such as in a one-car accident involving an intoxicated individual. However, there are other cases where DWI convictions have been upheld despite the fact that there was no clear evidence that the defendant ever actually drove while intoxicated. In other situations, people have been convicted of DWI after they were found pulled over or even parked in their cars in the driver’s seat while drunk or high. A New Jersey DWI defense lawyer can help challenge unproven assertions about the operation of a vehicle.
In addition, people can only be convicted of DWI when a motor vehicle is involved. Motor vehicles include cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, planes, ATVs and dirt bikes, but they do not comprise regular bicycles, horses and other non-motorized transport. The motor vehicle must also have been operable at the time of driving. You cannot be convicted of DWI for sitting in a car without tires or an engine.
Intoxication and Impairment in New Jersey DWI
There are two different ways in which prosecutors can seek to pursue a case involving someone driving while intoxicated. A prosecutor can focus on the driver’s mental or physical acuity and ability while operating the vehicle, or he or she can allege a violation of the state’s prohibition on “per se” DWI. In this case, the state prohibits a person from driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that is 0.08 or greater. By proving either of these arguments, a prosecutor can win a conviction for DWI.
In order to pursue a case for driving while under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, prosecutors must pursue a claim of driving under the influence. To attempt to prove their case, prosecutors may rely on police testimony about a driver’s behavior or appearance, the scent of alcohol or marijuana, slurred speech or an individual’s inability to perform tasks during a field sobriety test. These assertions can often be challenged successfully by a DWI defense attorney.
In most drunk driving cases, prosecutors rely on a “per se” violation in which a breath test is used to show a BAC of 0.08 or higher. The most commonly used breath test machine in New Jersey is the Alcotest 7110 MK-III-C. In order to convict you of DWI, the state must show that the machine was functioning properly without interference and that the test was performed correctly by a trained officer.
If you’ve been accused of DWI in New Jersey, the consequences can be serious. However, it is possible to successfully challenge all the DWI elements presented by the prosecution and introduce reasonable doubt into the equation. An experienced DWI defense lawyer can help you present a strong defense in court. Call skilled New Jersey DWI attorney Denis Driscoll at (973) 585-6982 to schedule a consultation at our office in Parsippany.