Driving under the influence is against the law and comes with various penalties, including jail time, fines, and potential loss of license. If you or a loved one has received a DUI charge, the very first step is to find a DUI attorney to support you in court. A New Jersey attorney, like Leon Matchin, has years of experience defending people with DUI charges. Often, the way to have charges dropped or downgraded depends on how the DUI stop was handled. For example, did the officer fail you on your sobriety test because it was given on uneven ground? Was there probable cause to pull you over? An officer must have probable cause in order to pull a driver over (ex: erratic driving, speeding, swerving, etc.).
What Qualifies as Impairment?
In New Jersey, a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher is guilty of drunk driving. If the driver is under the age of 21, there is a zero-tolerance policy, and no amount of alcohol can be found in the driver’s body. The number .08 seems random and arbitrary and leaves many people wondering exactly how many drinks they can have if they plan to drive later.
Your BAC depends on your gender, body weight, how many drinks you’ve had, and the time period in which you drank them. For example, a 120-pound woman is considered legally intoxicated if she has two drinks within one hour, while a 200-pound man doesn’t reach the intoxication level until he’s had four drinks in one hour. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides drivers with helpful charts to determine their potential BAC level. These charts are great to save on your phone and check before getting behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking.
A police officer cannot pull over any driver they want for no reason. In fact, they must have a reason for pulling someone over. These reasons could include speeding, erratic driving, failing to stop at a light, expired plates, etc. If you get pulled over for no specific reason and are then charged with a DUI, this can help your case in court.
Once you have been pulled over, the police officer will walk over to your car and ask you a few questions. Often they will ask something like, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” As they ask you a few questions, they will take note if they smell alcohol on your breath or see open containers in your vehicle.
After getting pulled over, a police officer will always ask for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. The officer will take your documents back to the patrol car to run a background check on you. The background check helps the officer determine if you have any history of traffic or criminal charges. Failure to produce these documents can add additional consequences and charges to the original reason you were pulled over. For example, driving without insurance can lead to a suspended license.
Field Sobriety Test
If the officer suspects that you have been drinking, they can ask you for a breathalyzer test to measure your BAC. New Jersey has an implied consent law regarding a breathalyzer test that all drivers agree to upon getting their license. This law means it is illegal to decline to take a breathalyzer if an officer requests one from you. If you do refuse a breathalyzer, you will have to face jail time and fines. The police officer will also have you do a variety of field sobriety tests. AAA defines the three standard sobriety tests suspected DUI drivers perform:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test: Someone with a BAC of .08 or higher will have trouble smoothly following a moving object with their eyes. The officer will move an object horizontally (i.e., pen, flashlight) in front of the driver’s gaze and watch the movement of the eyes. This test can identify impairment 88% of the time.
- Walk-and-Turn Test: The driver walks heel-to-toe for nine steps and then turns around and walks back. The officer looks for eight impairment indicators like lack of balance or inability to follow instructions. This test can accurately identify impairment 77% of the time if the driver exhibits at least two impairment indicators.
- One-Leg Stand Test: The driver stands on one foot with their other foot raised about six inches off the ground. They must count while doing this, and the officer times them. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment, including swaying and putting the raised foot down. 83% of individuals who show two or more of the impairment indicators are intoxicated.
Penalties, Consequences, and a DUI Attorney
DUI penalties depend on whether it’s a first or subsequent offense. Potential penalties include jail time, fines, installation of an ignition interlock device in your vehicle, community service, insurance surcharges, and more. Fortunately, a DUI attorney can help create a defense to use in court to hopefully have charges dropped or downgraded. A lot of these defenses depend on the field sobriety tests. Your lawyer might ask questions like: did the police officer calibrate the breathalyzer test before testing you? Did the test take into account the driver’s medical conditions? (ex: there are various medical issues that affect things like eye movement and balance. This can make someone appear intoxicated when they are not.) Did the driver have any medication in their system? For example, seizure medications can affect eye movement.
Getting pulled over for a suspected DUI is quite the process. From the administered breathalyzer to the field sobriety test, there’s a lot of room for giving a driver an erroneous DUI charge. Your DUI attorney, Leon Matchin, is well-versed in DUI charges and potential defenses. He can help you have your charges dropped or downgraded to something with lesser penalties. For more information about New Jersey attorney Leon Matchin and how he can help with DUI charges, contact him right away. You can reach him by phone at 732-887-2479, or email him at [email protected].