DUI arrests almost always start with a motor vehicle stop. During the holiday season especially, the police are on alert for clues of suspected drunk drivers. Such clues typically include erratic driving, weaving, speeding, or driving too slowly. Even a high beam violation will give the officer a valid reason to pull a driver over. Once the officer approaches the vehicle he or she will continue to investigate for further evidence of intoxication. The odor of alcohol emanating from inside the vehicle, for example, is a major clue that a driver may be intoxicated. Also, he or she will look for other signs of intoxication such as slurred speech and admission of consumption of alcohol.
Any driver should note that although he or she must never lie to the police, neither should they feel compelled to make any incriminating statements. Not answering a question about drinking before getting behind the wheel is, of course, unlikely to end an investigation. However, it is one less piece of evidence that will be used in court against them down the road. The next step is the field sobriety also known as the divided attention tests. The driver will be asked to exit the vehicle and perform usually what is known as the One Leg Stand, Walk and Turn, and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Once the tests are concluded the officer is almost always satisfied that he or she have enough probable cause to arrest a driver for drinking and driving so then they will bring the driver back to the station in handcuffs to take the Alco-Test.
The Alco-Test is a scientific device designed to produce a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading of the individual submitting a breath sample to the machine. For first time DUI offenders, New Jersey law provides three tiers. The first tier is a .08-.09 Blood Alcohol Content reading that requires the court to suspend a driver’s license for three months, amongst other penalties. Incidentally, a DUI based on Field Sobriety Test results only, without a Blood Alcohol Content reading, also subjects a defendant to a first tier DUI violation. The second tier is between a .10 to .14 reading that exposes a defendant between 7 months to one year loss of license and the third tier DUI is .15 or higher Blood Alcohol Content reading that exposes a defendant to same penalties as a second tier violation plus a mandatory minimum six months installation of an interlock device, amongst other penalties.
A second DUI conviction exposes one to two-year loss of license and up to 90 days in jail while a third conviction carries six months of jail and 10 years loss of license. With the Alco-Test, however, the police have to follow certain procedures and protocols that only an experienced DUI practitioner and specially trained police officers are familiar with in order for the Blood Alcohol Content to be legally admitted in court as evidence. Note that New Jersey has an implied consent statute, which means that a driver has no right to refuse to take the Alco-Test. In other words, all drivers by virtue of the fact that they are driving on public roadways are also by operation of law consenting to provide a breath sample should they be arrested for drinking and driving.
Refusal to take the Alco-Test subjects a defendant in court to an automatic loss of license of up to one year plus the installation of an interlock device and other penalties. Given the public policy against drinking and driving, municipal court prosecutors and judges are prohibited from dismissing DUI cases. Should you or someone you know be charged with a DUI offense, it is imperative that you hire an experienced DUI practitioner familiar with the players involved in the jurisdiction of your arrest to obtain and review the discovery, formulate your strategy and defenses, file the appropriate pre-trial motions to suppress and dismiss and proceed to trial, if necessary. My name is Leon Matchin and I am an expert on DUI defense. I may be reached at (877) 390-2998 or [email protected].
This article was also published in The Millstone Times on December 4th, 2015