DWI Arrest Without a Warrant

Do Police Need a Warrant to Arrest Someone for DWI?

New Jersey law permits a police officer to arrest an individual for DWI pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:5-25. This law is not, however, without limitation. The right to arrest for driving while intoxicated without a warrant only exists where police have “probable cause to believe that the defendant has been operating in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a) or N.J.S.A. 39:3-10.13 (intoxicated operation of a commercial vehicle).” Probable cause exists where, based on the totality of the facts and circumstances known to the police officer, it would be reasonable for the police officer to believe that the accused was operating his or her vehicle while in a state of intoxication. If an objectively reasonable basis does not exist to believe that the accused was either driving or intoxicated, then all facts and evidence acquired following the arrest is invalid and cannot be used by the police (e.g. incriminating evidence like blood test results, breath test readings, drugs seized, etc.).

Highly Experienced DWI Defense Lawyers Who Know How to Challenge an Arrest

Our staff includes 7 driving while intoxicated attorneys, several of whom are former prosecutors, who know all the angles when it comes to defending DWI. We thoroughly review the facts and law of every case and, if there was an error of fact or law by police, you can be sure that we will identify it. That issue will be presented in the best manner on your behalf so as to insure that you maximize the chance of a dismissal or downgrade.

What Happens If the Police Were Mistaken About a Fact or the Law?

A recurring issue that we are confronted with involves police who conduct a DWI stop but did so based on facts or law that was wrong. For example, maybe the motorist’s license wasn’t suspended, the registration wasn’t expired, or some other fact that formed the basis for the state was in error. It might also be that the police thought they had a right to stop based on the law but really did not (e.g. had the facts right but were mistaken on the law). The following two cases illustrate how courts have ruled on mistakes of fact or law.

  • State v. Pitcher: in this case, the defendant was stopped and subsequently arrested for DWI after his driver’s license allegedly came back as revoked. It actually turned out, however, that the suspect’s license was not revoked and that the fact — that his license was suspended — was wrong. The appeal court nonetheless sustained the DWI conviction because the police officer was reasonable in relying on the information (i.e. he had no reason to believe it was wrong prior to making the stop).
  • State v. Puzio: the police officer in Puzio mistakenly believed that the defendant’s driving violated a NJ motor vehicle law. When it turned out that he was wrong and there actually was no violation under the law, the appeals court set the stop and ensuing DWI conviction aside. The reasoning for the outcome was based on the fact that the police officer was not objectively reasonable and justified in concluding that the suspect violated the law (e.g. the police are the ones who are supposed to know the law when they stop someone based thereon).

The essence of the law is that a stop based on erroneous fact or law will be set aside if the actions of the police officer were objectively unreasonable. Accordingly, if they rely on an erroneous fact that they should not be relying upon in the first place or a fact that they should reasonably know is false, a resulting stop shall be set aside. Based on similar reasoning, stops based on mistakes of law are almost always invalid.

Additional Links & Related Information