I Was Charged with DWI: How Can They Prove I Was Intoxicated?

In this week’s discussion of DWI charges in New Jersey, we are going to address the fundamental question facing all defendants in these cases, which is “how can the State prove I was intoxicated?” There are multiple mechanisms used to support the State’s argument in a DWI case, paramount among them are the breath test reading and the physical observations of the arresting officer, each of which is explained in more detail below.

First and foremost is the breath test reading, which is utilized in an overwhelming number of DWI cases to establish proof of intoxication. In New Jersey, law enforcement officials use the Alcotest 7110 breath testing device, manufactured by Draeger Safety, to obtain a breath sample from an individual suspected of driving under the influence. This device evaluates the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) to identify whether it, in fact, exceeds the legal limit of .08%.

It is important to note that by operating a motor vehicle on a New Jersey road way, you are legally considered to have provided your consent to submit to a breath test. As such, refusal to submit to a breath test is another charge which can be issued in addition to a charge for DWI. In these cases, an officer must have reasonable belief that you are driving under the influence, request that you provide a breath sample, and have you refuse. The penalties for these offenses are severe, including a period of driver’s license suspension ranging from 7 months to 1 year. We will elaborate further on “refusal” charges in a later post in this series.

As for the second way that the State attempts to prove a DWI charge, this involves the physical observations of the law enforcement officer. This category of evidence can involve general observations and the results of field sobriety tests. General observations can encompass one or more of the following:

  • Slurred speech
  • Slow and deliberate movements
  • Decreased alertness
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Flushed face
  • Smell of alcohol on the defendant’s breath

Additionally, the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued and approved a number of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, which include: the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) Test, the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand test. To read the instructions and procedures for conducting Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, click here.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, when charged with a DWI, there are a host of potential errors and issues to identify related to the protocol that police are required to follow prior to and during the administration of the aforementioned tests. Recognizing technical errors in the breath testing machine itself can also call into question the validity of the BAC reading. By conducting an extensive evaluation of the circumstances proceeding your arrest and everything that followed, we may find a strong argument to challenge the admissibility of critical evidence, undermining the State’s case, and ultimately, leading to the dismissal of the charges.