A driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge, also known as a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, is a serious matter in Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey that comes with equally severe legal consequences. As such, the moments following a DWI arrest can be confusing and overwhelming. Filled with fear and uncertainty, many people wonder, “What now?”
The answer is to contact a knowledgeable New Jersey DWI lawyer like Steven Ellman, who has more than 30 years of experience protecting the rights of people dealing with DWI cases. He can explain what happens after a DUI offense in Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey, advise you on your options when facing a DWI conviction, and protect your rights throughout the process.
The Initial Arrest
When those red and blue lights flash behind you, your heart might skip a beat, especially if you suspect you could be over the legal limit and potentially facing drunk driving charges. Don’t panic. Instead, remember how the process plays out and how to react appropriately. Here’s how the initial arrest takes place:
- Traffic Stop: The process usually starts with a traffic stop. An officer might pull you over for various reasons, such as erratic driving, speeding, a broken tail light, or entering a random DWI checkpoint.
- Observation: The officer will assess your behavior and appearance for any signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol.
- Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs): If the officer suspects you’re under the influence, they might ask you to perform field sobriety tests. There are only three admissible FSTs in New Jersey: the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn, and the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, where an officer watches your eyes as they track a moving object.
- Breath or Blood Test: Should you fail the FSTs, or if there’s a strong suspicion of intoxication, the officer can request a breath test, commonly known as a breathalyzer. In some cases, they might also ask for a blood test. Refusing these tests in New Jersey can result in severe penalties, often stricter than those for DWI itself.
- Arrest: If the breath or blood test shows a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit (0.08 percent for most drivers), the officer will place you under arrest.
Your Rights During a DWI Arrest
If the police arrest you on suspicion of drunk driving, keep a cool head and remember that you have rights throughout the arrest process. You have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. These rights mean you don’t have to answer any questions about where you were, what you were doing, or how much you’ve had to drink. Additionally, after the arrest, you have the right to a phone call and the right to legal counsel from criminal defense lawyers. Maybe you suspect that the police violated your rights at some point during the arrest. If so, an experienced DWI defense attorney can help address those concerns and potentially use them to your advantage.
The Immediate Aftermath
While a DWI arrest is frightening and challenging on its own, the steps that follow can be just as intimidating, particularly without a criminal defense attorney’s help. Here’s what you can expect after the police arrest you on suspicion of DWI:
- Being Taken Into Custody: The arresting officer will place you in handcuffs and inform you that you’re being taken into custody. This does not equate to a formal charge or conviction. It’s a procedural step law enforcement takes when they believe there’s enough evidence for prosecutors to file a DWI charge.
- Booking and Processing: Upon arrival at the police station or jail, you’ll undergo a process called “booking.” During booking, the police will gather your personal information, such as your name, date of birth, and address. They will also record details of the alleged offense. Finally, the police will photograph you and record your fingerprints. Your personal belongings, such as your phone, wallet, and any jewelry, will typically be cataloged and stored for safekeeping until your release.
- Placed in Holding Cell: After the booking process, you might be placed in a holding cell. Depending on the circumstances and the jurisdiction, you could be held until you’re sober, released on bail, or await an initial court appearance.
Charges and Court Summons
After the booking process, prosecutors will decide whether to file formal charges based on the evidence the police have gathered, such as your blood alcohol content (BAC) levels or the results of field sobriety tests. If they do, they will formally accuse you of a specific offense or set of offenses. Next, you will receive a court summons, an official legal document that orders you to appear in court on a specified date and time. It’s of utmost importance to carefully read and understand the contents of this summons, as failing to appear in court can lead to additional penalties, including a warrant for your arrest.
Next is the arraignment, which is your first official court appearance. At the arraignment, you will enter a plea: guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Your answer determines what happens next in your case.
At this stage, it’s vital to understand the different penalties for DUI charges in New Jersey. For example, a first-time DWI offense with a BAC between 0.08 and 0.10 percent carries up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $400. By contrast, a third DUI offense carries up to 180 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Your New Jersey DWI lawyers can tell you more about the potential penalties in your case.
The Role of an Experienced New Jersey DWI Attorney
Attorney Steven Ellman has 35 years of experience with cases like these, and he’s gotten the charges dropped for more than 80 percent of our clients. Our firm can examine the evidence against you, see if the police obtained any evidence illegally, handle negotiations with local prosecutors, and represent you at any court appearances you have. Forgoing an attorney’s help means putting yourself at risk of the most severe penalties for a conviction, including license suspension, substantial fines, and lengthy jail sentences.
The Law Office of Steven Ellman understands the stress you’re feeling and wants to help you through this difficult chapter. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your rights when facing a DWI conviction in Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey.