Arrested for DWI in New Jersey? Top 10 Things You Should Know
If you or a loved one has been charged with a DWI (driving while intoxicated), it is important to have a complete and comprehensive understanding of the charges and potential consequences. The legal team at Rosenberg | Perry & Associates is experienced, compassionate and aggressive in defending DWI cases. If you or anyone you know has been charged with DWI in New Jersey, the first thing you should do is speak with an attorney to learn your rights and the defenses available to you. At a minimum, here are the top 10 things you should know after you have been arrested for DWI:
1. Know the Basic Terminology.
There are lots of terms and phrases that you will hear in a DWI case that may be unfamiliar. Here are a few that show up in almost all cases:
BAC — Blood Alcohol Content. This is a number that is used to measure a person’s level of alcohol intoxication. In New Jersey, BAC at or above .08% is considered per se intoxicated, meaning that you are too intoxicated to operate a motor vehicle, regardless of whether you operated your motor vehicle in a safe manner.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests — This is also referred to by the acronym SFSTs. This is a battery of tests law enforcement use to measure psycho-physical characteristics classically present in individuals who are intoxicated. They test the operator’s gross motor skills and ability to concentrate and “multi-task.” There are three tests typically administered: The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) Test, the Walk and Turn Test and the One-Leg Stand.
Alcotest — New Jersey no longer uses the “breathalyzer” to measure an individual’s BAC. The Alcotest is an incredibly sophisticated machine that is far more accurate and contains measures to ensure proper operation and administration.
2. Fight Back!
Too many people assume they are guilty or have no defenses to the charge. Sure, it’s possible that you may end up pleading guilty and/or going to trial and being found guilty. That doesn’t mean you should just give up. There are hundreds of possibilities that have to be eliminated before you get to that point. Maybe the officer didn’t observe you for 20 minutes before administering the Alcotest. Maybe the reason the officer pulled you over was invalid. Maybe the Alcotest wasn’t maintained properly. Perhaps some evidence was inadvertently lost or destroyed. There are simply too many questions you need the answer to before you get in front of a judge and plead guilty. Don’t accept the worst before you know it’s the only option. Fight back.
3. Get Legal Help.
Personally, I think you should get an attorney for any charge, no matter how minor — there are too many collateral consequences that come with even minor convictions like a speeding ticket. For a DWI, though, there is no question you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The law of DWI is extensive and takes years to learn. It is technical and complex. Often the devil is in the details, and you need a lawyer who will exploit any mistake to improve your outcome.
4. The Prosecutor Will Not Negotiate With You.
Unlike the vast majority of motor vehicle offenses, municipal court prosecutors are forbidden from negotiating DWI cases. For example, in other speeding violations, the prosecutor may permit you to plead to a lesser ticket as part of the negotiating process (you agree not to force them prove their case, and the prosecutor agrees to reduce charges). In DWI cases, prosecutors are not allowed to negotiate. You need an attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable in court procedure and the nuanced legal principles of DWI law to avoid the trap of having only two options: pleading or going to trial.
5. You Are an Important Part of the Defense.
Our attorneys tend to be more thorough than some attorneys. As such, we do not simply look at the discovery materials, meet you for the first time in court, and stand next to you while you plead guilty. You are a critical part of the case. Information you have, even if it seems unimportant, can sometimes make the difference between a good outcome and a great outcome. I had one client who was charged with DWI and seemed to be doomed to suffer significant penalties. I reviewed the police reports, dash cam video and Alcotest documents extensively, and saw no technical or procedural errors. When I sat down to discuss the case and my client’s options, she informed me that she was wearing dentures the night of her arrest, and the officer failed to remove the dentures prior to administering the Alcotest. This was a clear violation of protocol, and rendered the results of the Alcotest suspect. As a result the prosecutor was forced to offer an incredibly beneficial resolution. Without this information from my client, the result would have been significantly worse.
6. Don’t Assume the Worst!
The first thing I do when I meet with my clients is review the worst-case scenario. For a DWI, the worst-case scenario includes a substantial loss of driving privileges, significant fines and (in some cases) jail. I go over these penalties because I often find clients find it comforting — not knowing what could happen is scarier than knowing. Once we discuss the maximum penalties, we get to work trying to obtain the best possible outcome. Don’t assume that you will get the maximum penalties, or any penalties at all. Until your attorney has reviewed all the police reports, dash cam video, Alcotest results and other materials, it is too early to predict what will happen with your case. Because of the complex nature of DWI cases, the defenses also tend to be complex.
7. New Jersey Does Not Permit “Work Licenses.”
A DWI conviction in most states requires a loss of license in most instances. If this happens, some states will still permit a defendant to drive to and from work during this period of suspension. This is sometimes called a “work license” or “bread and butter” license. New Jersey does not allow this. If you lose your license for seven months, you are not permitted to drive at all during that time period.
8. DWI Is Not a Crime.
In New Jersey, a ticket for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is just that: a motor vehicle ticket. In some states, such as Pennsylvania, a DWI is a criminal charge that will appear on a criminal background check. A DWI in New Jersey carries with it significant penalties, and you must take it seriously, but it is not a criminal offense. Therefore, it will not be on your criminal record. It will, however, be on your NJ Driving Abstract and cannot be expunged.
9. The Police Officer Does Not Make Any Final Decisions.
It is not uncommon for my clients to tell me in our first meeting that they were polite to the officer, and that the officer told them he would “do them a favor” when the case comes to court. While many officers can be well intentioned and sincere when they say this, they don’t have the authority to resolve cases. Only the prosecutor can extend a plea offer or sentencing recommendation, unless the judge permits otherwise, which is rare.
10. Be Careful What You Read on the Internet.
There are a lot of well-meaning people who post on message boards and other venues intending to inform other people on DWI law. This poses some problems, however. First, most people who do this take one case (sometimes their own) and assume that what happened in that one case applies to all cases. This is false because every case is different, every cop is different and every Municipal Court is different. Second, the law of DWI is very complicated. Even lawyers who have litigated DWI cases for decades will often refer discovery materials out for an expert to review; usually a retired State Police Trooper with expertise in the technical requirements of the Alcotest and its administration. Whatever you read on the Internet should be taken with caution. Said differently, consider the source.
If you or a loved one received a DWI charge while driving in New Jersey, you should immediately speak with an attorney experienced in successfully defending DWI cases. Call Rosenberg | Perry & Associates today for a free, confidential consultation at (609) 216-7400.