Stage One: the Arrest
The first stage of the DWI process is the arrest. For the traffic stop to be valid, the stop must be supported by reasonable suspicion that a motor vehicle violation has been committed. Under State v. Carpentieri, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the police must have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a violation of the traffic laws has occurred in order to effectuate a stop for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Once an individual is stopped the police must have probable cause to believe the driver is intoxicated before they can make an arrest and conduct a breathalyzer test. It should also be kept in mind that there is no right to advice from counsel at this stage and therefore an attorney, in particular, an experienced DWI lawyer, is of no assistance at this point in time in the case.
Stage Two: Arraignment
When a defendant is charged with a DWI, DUI, or refusal in New Jersey, the defendant receives a Complaint. After the Complaint is filed, the defendant makes his first appearance at Arraignment where he is informed of the charges against him, is informed of his rights under the law, and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. If you hire an attorney to represent you, the initial appearance can normally be waived. The arraignment can be “adjourned” by the DUI lawyer sending a letter of representation to the court advising it that you are represented, were advised of your rights, and that you are entering a plea of “NOT GUILTY.”
Stage Three: Discovery
The discovery process begins whereby the State turns over all evidence they have against the defendant to the defendant’s attorney. At this point, the attorney can determine if any issues arise such as lack of reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, lack of probable cause, problems with the breathalyzer operator, or malfunctions of the breathalyzer machine. It is important to obtain all documents relating to the DWI charge in order to determine if an expert should be contacted for trial.
Stage Four: Trial
After the discovery process, if a plea agreement cannot be reached, the trial begins in the municipal court of the municipality the defendant was charged in. This trial takes place in front of a municipal court judge who determines guilt or innocence. There is no right to a jury trial for DWI offenses. If found guilty, the municipal court judge then sentences the defendant according to the guidelines in New Jersey for DWI and DUI offenses.
Possible Issues That Can Be Raised During the DWI Process:
One possible issue that can be raised is whether the defendant operated the vehicle. This issue arises in cases where the defendant was sleeping in the vehicle or where the defendant is stopped by police officers just as he enters his vehicle. Under State v. Mulcahy, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that police officers, who saw defendant, who was drunk, stagger out of a tavern into a car that was illegally parked on the sidewalk, could arrest defendant for purposes of submission to the sobriety test when defendant started to put keys in the ignition. The defendant’s attempt to place keys in the ignition was “operation” of motor vehicle and sufficient to warrant submission to the breathalyzer test. Also, under State v. Daly, the defendant did not possess “intent” to operate his car notwithstanding the fact that the car was running insofar as he had been sleeping in the car with the heat on for almost 1.5 hours prior to police arriving. A knowledge New Jersey DWI lawyer will know how to present facts on operation so as to provide the best defense in a given case.
The next possibility is contesting the breathalyzer test. The breathalyzer machines are subject to certain rules and restrictions and must be inspected regularly. There is a coordinator’s certificate required to show that the breathalyzer machine has been inspected and is functioning properly.
A third possible issue that can be raised with regard to a DWI case is the categorization of the defendant as a first, second, or third offender. Depending on whether the prior conviction was for a refusal or for DWI, it can significantly affect the sentencing of the defendant. We find that there can be a significant disparity in the knowledge of DWI lawyers when it comes to this area of law. There are many issues that can be presented in this regard and attorneys with experience in this area of law will typically be well versed in the issues.