Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) are serious offenses in New Jersey. If convicted, you could lose your license, pay a steep fine, serve jail time, or all three, depending on the severity of your DUI case and any prior DUIs. Knowing what to expect during the DUI court process can help you better prepare for the next steps of your DUI case. Having an experienced DUI lawyer is also critical to mount a strong defense to these charges.
At The Law Office of Steven Ellman, we focus on protecting your rights and seeking the best possible outcome for your circumstances. Contact our law firm for a free consultation if you are facing DUI charges.
Stage 1: Arrest and DWI Charges
In New Jersey, the legal intoxication limit is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. If you operate a motor vehicle above the legal limit, you are at risk of being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.
The Circumstances Leading to a DUI Arrest
Police officers look for signs of drunk driving. They watch for erratic driving, such as:
- Weaving between lanes
- Braking unexpectedly
- Driving too fast or too slowly
- Making wide turns
Even something as simple as not using a turn signal can get their attention. Anything that rises to the level of reasonable suspicion that you have committed a traffic offense can provide the basis for a traffic stop. Once a police officer pulls a driver over, they’ll look for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, the smell of alcohol, or bloodshot eyes.
Field Sobriety Tests and Breathalyzer Procedures
If the officer thinks you might be under the influence, they could ask you to leave the car to take standardized field sobriety tests. Tests like the one-leg stand or toe-to-heel test check your balance, attention, and other abilities to determine if there are signs of impairment.
Depending on the results of the field sobriety tests, the police officer could ask you to take a breathalyzer to measure the alcohol in your breath. You can refuse a breathalyzer test, but under New Jersey’s implied consent law, you face severe penalties for doing so. Under this law, you agree to submit to the taking of a breath sample for the purpose of making a chemical test to determine your blood alcohol concentration when the taking is made according to the law and the police officer has reasonable suspicion to believe you are operating a vehicle with a BAC above the legal limit. However, the law also provides that you can also have your breath, blood, or urine sample taken by a provider of your choice.
Filing of Charges and Immediate Aftermath
If the tests show that you are intoxicated or if you refuse to take the test, the officer can arrest you. The arresting officer will read your rights to you, take you to the police station to book you for DUI, and perform a blood alcohol test. The officer will write a police report about why they stopped you, what they observed, and the test results. That report will go to the district attorney.
Rights of the Accused
You have rights under the Constitution, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Tell the officer you will only answer questions with an attorney present and hire a DWI lawyer so that you have legal counsel throughout all proceedings.
Stage 2: Pretrial Proceedings
The pretrial proceedings could determine whether your DUI arrest leads to a trial. In New Jersey, DUI cases are generally handled by municipal courts. The first part of this stage is an arraignment, which is your first court date. A municipal court judge officially informs you of the charges against you and asks for your plea.
During pretrial proceedings, your lawyer may file pretrial motions. For example, they may file a motion to suppress certain evidence. At the suppression hearing, your lawyer would argue the stop was illegal or that evidence was obtained illegally in the hopes that the evidence could not be introduced at trial and your charges could be dismissed or reduced. New Jersey courts try to convince parties to resolve the matter without the need for a trial, so you may have a pretrial status conference to update the court on the status of your DUI case and whether there will be a plea bargain or other alternative to trial.
The Importance of Legal Representation
An experienced attorney is crucial to your DUI court process, especially in the pretrial stage. New Jersey DUI lawyer can:
- Examine the state’s evidence during the discovery phase
- Conduct an independent investigation into the stop and gather relevant evidence to aid in your defense
- File motions to suppress evidence obtained illegally or for other reasons
- Look for weaknesses in the state’s DUI or DWI case
- Request that the prosecution dismiss the charges or drop the case for lack of evidence
- Advise whether it is in your best interest to accept a plea bargain to avoid a harsher sentence
Stage 3: DUI Trials and Potential Penalties
Not all DUI arrests proceed to trial, but having a qualified lawyer by your side is essential when they do. Here is what to expect from the DWI trial process in New Jersey.
The DUI Court Process
Since the burden of proof is on the state, the prosecution presents its case and evidence first. The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed all elements of the DUI offense. Your defense lawyer can question the prosecution’s witnesses before presenting your case and evidence. Each side will have the opportunity to examine or cross-examine witnesses.
It is important to know that there is no right to a jury trial for DWI charges in New Jersey, so a judge will hear and decide your case.
Potential Defenses and Strategies
Defending against a DUI charge can involve a variety of strategies based on the specifics of the case. Your defense strategy may encompass one or more of the following:
- Illegal stop: The officer lacked probable cause to pull you over, failed to read your Miranda rights to you, or in some way deprived you of your Constitutional rights.
- Inaccurate breathalyzer/BAC results: The officer improperly administered the test, the device malfunctioned, or the device was inaccurately calibrated and maintained.
- Improper blood test: A broken chain of custody of the sample, an incorrect technique to draw the blood, or improper preservation (such as exposure to extreme temperatures) renders the sample unreliable.
- Mistake of fact: The driver consumed a drink they believed was alcohol-free.
- Involuntary intoxication: Someone spiked the driver’s drink without their knowledge.
- Medical reasons: Conditions like hypoglycemia can cause slurred speech, impaired motor skills, and other symptoms similar to intoxication.
Penalties and Implications of a DUI Conviction
DUI penalties can vary, depending on whether this is your first offense, your BAC level (above .10 percent means stiffer consequences), and if there were bodily injuries or loss of life. Some of these penalties include:
- Court fees and fines
- Higher insurance premiums (or loss of insurance)
- Potential job loss
- Suspended license
- Alcohol rehabilitation or education programs
- Community service
The Value of Experienced Representation
Our firm’s founder, Attorney Steven Ellman, is an award-winning DUI defense lawyer with over 35 years of experience in New Jersey criminal law. His success rate for DUI, DWI, and traffic offenses exceeds 80 percent. Mr. Ellman is a member in good standing of the following legal organizations:
- American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys
- New Jersey Association for Justice
- DUI Defense Lawyers Association
- New Jersey Criminal Defense Bar Association
New Jersey takes DUI arrests seriously, and so should you. Failing to take proper steps to defend yourself can lead to tremendous loss. It is in your best interest to contact an experienced DUI lawyer immediately after arrest.
Call an Experienced DWI Lawyer Today
The Law Office of Steven Ellman should be your first call if you face a DUI arrest. Our law firm has the resources, knowledge, and results to capably handle even the most complex of DUI cases in Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey. Contact the Law Office of Steven Ellman for a free initial consultation with an experienced DWI attorney today.