If a police officer pulls a person over under the suspicion that the individual is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then that individual may be charged with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or a DWI (Driving While Impaired).
In the state of New Jersey, an officer will typically conduct a field sobriety test first. This test is made up of a number of physical and mental tests such as reciting the alphabet backwards and forwards, walking in a straight line, and a nystagmus test.
If the officer feels that there is sufficient evidence that the individual is intoxicated, then a Breathalyzer test will be administered. The Breathalyzer, which is used to determine a person’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), will conclude if the individual was over the legal limit of 0.08% BAC for the state of New Jersey. Anything over that amount will result in DWI charges.
DWIs Are No Laughing Matter
Beyond the obvious danger to yourself and others, DWI convictions carry heavy penalties, ranging from fines, fees, and surcharges to jail time and license suspension.
Repeat DWI convictions result in jail time, large fines, community service, ignition interlock devices, and the suspension of licenses for a long period.
Ultimately, DWI convictions create a disruptive burden on one’s finances, personal life, and permanent record.
The best way to combat a DWI is to drink responsibly, use a designated driver, or stay put until the effects of the ingested substance wear off.
That being said, sometimes mistakes are made, and we find ourselves in compromising situations. If you or someone you know is being charged with a DWI, it is crucial to understand that it is not the end of the world.
Often, commonly held misconceptions about DWI affect our decision-making processes, leading to avoidable critical errors. Here, we address 5 of the prevailing misconceptions surrounding DWIs, and how a better understanding of each can minimize the case against you.
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Myth #1: There Is Nothing I Can Do To Fight The Charges
It may be tempting to think that a DWI charge is akin to being handed a “Game Over” notice, and all the penalties associated with a DWI will be enacted. However, this is simply not always the case.
The case brought against you by the prosecution must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Failing a field sobriety and/or breathalyzer test does not attain burden of proof. While New Jersey laws are particularly stringent, there are defenses and certain lines of question that an experienced attorney will know to mount.
For example, if the arresting officer points to slurred speech or red/watery eyes as signs of inebriation, your defense attorney can raise questions that result in valid, rational reasons for your physical condition (i.e. allergies, lack of sleep, traumatic event).
A good lawyer will help you combat the charges in a manner that is completely aboveboard and raises reasonable doubt to your guilt.
Myth #2: The Tests Administered Are Always Accurate
Usually, the arresting officers will conduct an Alcotest breathalyzer in order to determine whether an individual’s BAC is over the New Jersey legal limit of 0.08%. This method has been used for years, so it must be accurate, right?
Not quite. The breathalyzer only gives an indirectly determined value for an individual’s BAC, meaning the result is based on how much alcohol is in the portion of the air exhaled, not how much alcohol is in an individuals blood.
To calculate BAC from the sample, the content of alcohol is multiplied by the “partition ratio”, a number that represents the average ratio of alcohol to blood. The problem with this is that is fails to take into account factors such as body temperature and respiration rate, meaning that the same individual could give off dramatically different readings.
Burping, vomiting, using mouthwashes, taking medications, or consuming a breath freshener prior to taking an Alcotest can also produce false readings. Alcohol-containing substances in your mouth give off a high alcohol vapor percentage, much greater than your lungs are capable of producing. If any of these were a factor, then there is a good chance that you are a victim of a faulty reading.
A number of prerequisites must be filled before a breathalyzer reading is accepted as evidence into court. If the Alcotest machine is not calibrated once every six months with various alcohol solutions, the manufacturer does not certify the machine, or if the administering officer has not been properly trained to operate the machine, or is not up-to-date in certification, then your Alcotest results may not be admissible in court.
If your attorney can provide evidence that calls into question your breathalyzer reading, then the state is forced to make a less compelling case. Often, if presented with a strong argument, the prosecutor will agree to downgrade the offense. This can mean a world of difference if you’re looking at big fines, license suspension and jail time.
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Myth #3: I Need To Take A Breathalyzer Right Away After Being Pulled Over
While it is unwise to refuse a field sobriety test, it is recommended that you politely refuse a pre-arrest breath test. These roadside breathalyzers are prone to giving off artificially high readings, and do not have the safeguards that the breathalyzers at the police station will.
It is also important to note that there are a number of procedures that an officer must follow before administering a breathalyzer. The police are required to recite a standardized statement advising you of your rights before requesting breath samples. After that, they must observe you for 20 uninterrupted minutes. During this period, if you swallow anything, regurgitate, put a foreign object into your mouth, or use chewing gum/tobacco, then they are required to restart the period of observation.
Experienced attorneys will know to carefully review the state’s evidence and documentation of this period in order to ensure that everything occurring prior to the breathalyzer has been performed according to the law. A number of DWI cases in New Jersey have been compromised by a failure follow these requirements, and could potentially affect the outcome of your case.
Myth #4: If My BAC Is Over 0.08%, I’ll Be Found Guilty
As noted in many of the misconceptions above, your Alcotest reading is not the “nail in the coffin” for your case. Your field sobriety test results, as well as your chemical test results, comprise only half of the prosecution’s case.
In most DWI trials, the case is also made up of your driving prior to the police pulling you over, and your mannerisms during initial questioning. Even if your BAC is found to be over 0.08%, it is the responsibility of your lawyer to examine not only your test results but also your actions in order to present circumstances and evidence to cast doubt on your guilt.
By calling attention to positive driving cues or environmental factors influencing appearance and behavior, your attorney can make a strong case in your defense, regardless of your BAC results.
Myth #5: A DWI Is Only A Legal Matter
During a DWI case, it is not uncommon to focus solely on the “impaired” portion of the charges, rather than on the “driving” portion. Yet most people fail to realize that a DWI results in two separate cases against an individual: a court case AND a civil case.
Once you are convicted of a DWI, the Department of Motor Vehicles will automatically suspend your license. This is why it is critical to hire an experienced DWI attorney, one who is experienced in both civil and court matters related to DWIs.
If you find yourself battling DWI charges, let us help. Our specialties include DWI cases and we bring years of experience in areas such as BAC analysis, Alcotest requirements, and NJ DWI laws. Contact us and we’ll help you navigate the legal complexities to obtain to best possible outcome for your situation.