The first thought many people have when charged with driving under the influence (DUI) is, “How can I get out of this?” The consequences of a DUI in New Jersey are severe, even for first-time offenders. The good news is that a person can beat a DUI charge, although it will require the help of a skilled DUI attorney.
DUI Dismissal Data in NJ
New Jersey has a very high conviction rate of DUI cases. Data from 2018 shows that 71% of drunk driving charges end in conviction. If there’s good news here, it’s that this figure is far lower than it was 10 years earlier. Around 2008, about 85% of DUI cases ended in conviction.
In the same 10-year period, the number of DUI charges that were dismissed more than doubled to 24% in 2018. Experts point to two main reasons for this change. One is a rise in cases of driving under the influence of drugs, which is harder to prove than driving under the influence of alcohol. The other is an increase in alternative dispositions (more on this below).
Methods for Beating DUI
Lack of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause. Police must have a valid reason for pulling over a vehicle and conducting a sobriety test. For the traffic stop, an officer needs only to prove “reasonable suspicion,” which could include drifting in and out of lanes or committing an unrelated traffic violation (speeding or running a red light).
Once pulled over, the officer must meet a higher standard known as probable cause to conduct the arrest for intoxicated driving. Evidence that meets the standard of probable cause can include something easily observed such as slurred speech, or something analytical, such as the result of a breathalyzer or other field sobriety test.
If the officer cannot fully demonstrate that he/she had legal reasons for both the traffic stop and the DUI arrest, then the charge can be beaten.
Miranda Rights Violation. Police must read each person his/her Miranda rights, explaining that he/she has the right to remain silent and the right to consult with a lawyer. New Jersey law demands that these rights be recited in a manner and language that the person being arrested can understand.
The challenge here is that this type of violation only invalidates statements a person made while in police custody, prior to having his/her rights read to them. Other evidence, such breathalyzer results, may still be used against the driver.
Lack of Speedy Trial. New Jersey requires that all DUI cases be resolved within 60 days. Whenever a prosecutor illegally delays the progress of a case, it opens up the possibility that the case will be dismissed.
Challenging Breath Test Results. A recent New York Times article showed that breath testing machines used in New Jersey and other states are prone to producing inaccurate results. Under the right circumstances, an attorney may be able to prove as much.
However, there are other ways to challenge breathalyzer results. This may include instances where the officer wasn’t properly trained in how to use it, or if the testing officer fails to testify in the case.
Challenging Blood or Urine Test Results. Unlike with a breath test, police need a warrant to get a blood or urine sample in a DUI case. If the officer does not secure a warrant and misleads the driver into thinking he/she is required to provide such samples without one, this evidence can be thrown out.
Even when obtained with a warrant, blood or urine samples can be tossed if police do not follow proper procedures when extracting or storing the samples.
Challenging Officer Observations. Police are human beings who can make mistakes. When cross-examining police officers, an attorney may be able to prove that an officer’s recollection of events or evidence is faulty. Police observations can also be challenged with dashcam video that shows the officer’s testimony to be exaggerated or false (intentionally or otherwise).
In some cases, evidence that seems to be a clear case of intoxication could be the result of other factors, such as allergies (bloodshot eyes) or other medical conditions.
Challenging Field Sobriety Tests. The biggest problem with field sobriety tests is that they are used to confirm what an officer has likely decided is true, rather than to disprove a suspicion. Many field tests, such as walking in a straight line or standing on one leg are biased against those who may have inner ear disorders, back or knee problems, or who are overweight.
Other conditions, such as lighting, weather, ambient road noises, the age of the driver being tested, and more can make test results unreliable.
Challenging Drug Recognition Expert Evidence. The scientific reliability of drug recognition experts (DREs) is questionable. The New Jersey Supreme Court is still considering the admissibility of DRE testimony against drivers in court. Even if the science of DREs is determined to be admissible, a skilled lawyer may still be able to negate this kind of evidence. In particular, if the testing process that DREs are trained to perform is not followed precisely, that could be enough to discredit such testimony.
No Diversionary Programs or Expungements for DUI Charges
New Jersey offers opportunities for those who are being charged with a first offense to avoid jail time and/or a conviction. These diversionary programs are intended to reduce the cycle of conviction and re-offense.
In New Jersey, DUI is not considered a criminal offense. The upside to this is that a conviction for DUI does not result in a criminal record. The downside is that it means drivers cannot use programs like Pretrial Intervention (PTI) to avoid a conviction for DUI. In certain criminal cases, PTI offers a first-time offender the chance to participate in a court-designed program, often involving counseling, probation and/community service, as an alternative to incarceration and a criminal record.
While many New Jersey crimes can be expunged, since DUI is not a criminal offense it cannot be expunged.
New Jersey allows drivers to take plea deals on traffic tickets, which means the driver agrees to plead guilty to a lesser offense than the one being charged in exchange for accepting the fine and other penalties.
While DUI is a traffic offense in New Jersey, plea deals are hard to come by for this offense. However, data shows that prosecutors are increasingly accepting “alternative dispositions” (see data section above) for DUI cases, which is similar to a plea deal in that the driver accepts the consequences of a non-DUI offense.
When options to avoid a conviction run out, a person can still potentially mitigate the consequences by seeking sentencing alternatives. A sentencing alternative seeks to help and punish the driver at the same time. The goal is to require enough hardship to act as a deterrent to future offense while also allowing someone to maintain his/her job or, when necessary, get counseling for substance abuse problems.
Types of sentencing alternatives in NJ include:
Electronic monitoring programs. This allows a person to serve a sentence at home rather than in jail. In most cases, the person is allowed minimal travel (e.g. for work, food shopping, church, etc.). This requires the use of an ankle bracelet or similar technology. If the person does not otherwise comply with curfew or other restrictions, probation officers are notified. Some devices can even detect alcohol consumption.
Ignition interlock devices. Most drivers convicted of DUI in NJ will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle. While it may be an expense and an annoyance, most individuals would prefer that to not being able to drive altogether.
Rehabilitation. If the person charged with DUI is confirmed to have a substance abuse problem, then a comprehensive rehabilitation program may be ordered by the court in place of other penalties. These can be inpatient or outpatient programs, depending on the individual’s needs.
The Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP). This offers a person the opportunity to “work off” a jail sentence at the sheriff’s department or on other community projects. The type of work will vary depending on a person’s physical abilities. Even the most demanding labor is usually preferable to spending time in jail.
Weekend jails. Again, the focus here is allowing a person to hold onto a steady job while still serving a sentence for the offense. The driver will spend Friday night through Sunday in jail but is allowed to be home and at work during the weekdays. The downside is that a person who is required to spend 30 days in jail may instead spend 15 weekends in jail, dragging the punishment out for more than three months rather than just one.
Who Should I Contact?
Don’t assume you can’t beat a DUI! If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI or any criminal offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people prove their innocence, protect their rights, and avoid unnecessary consequences. Contact Rosenblum Law by email, or call 888-815-3694 today for a free consultation about your case.