Many people believe that drunk or drugged driving charges are fairly cut and dry. If an officer stops you on suspicion of DUI or DWI, he or she will collect physical evidence to prove your guilt if you have, in fact, been drinking.
While this is usually the case, drivers may make the mistake of taking steps to solidify their charges and it may not be immediately clear to them that they do not have to plead guilty to any offenses -- no matter what circumstances surrounded their arrest.
Second and third offense DWI cases typically go to trial, given the nature of the offense and the state laws regarding penalties. However, a majority of first-offense DWI/DUI cases end in a guilty plea. Many DUI charges are first-offense cases, and when drivers plead guilty, they may be accepting unnecessary penalties and jail sentences that could have been avoided if they had gone to trial or searched for other legal options.
When you are charged with a DWI offense, you are required to appear in a New Jersey court for your “first appearance,” at which time you will answer to your charges. This appearance is called an arraignment and is a formal proceeding where the judge will review the charges that have been entered against you.
He or she will read you your rights and at that point you have a choice — plead guilty or not guilty. As a way to bypass the arraignment requirement, New Jersey laws allow defendants to enter not guilty pleas for DUI/DWI through their attorneys.
What Happens if You Plead Not Guilty?
Drunk driving arrests are typically initiated based on an officer’s observation of what he or she presumes is drunken behavior — a driver weaving in and out of lanes, failing to obey traffic signs and laws or driving unsafely. While these are common characteristics of a driver who is too intoxicated to be behind the wheel, they do not necessarily always indicate drunk or drugged driving.
In some cases, an officer may pull over a driver on suspicion of drunk driving and the driver may be drowsy or confused about the route, or he or she may be having a medical emergency. A medical emergency can involve something as simple as taking a new medication and reacting badly to it, even if the medication does not have clearly-marked side effects that could impact your driving.
If you are pulled over because your medication makes you unable to drive, an officer may claim that your behavior indicated drunkenness and may try to charge you with DUI. However, If you don’t plead guilty to the charge and choose to go to court, you can present your side of the story and your charges might ultimately be dismissed by the judge.
Pleading guilty eliminates your opportunity to prove your innocence or argue your case. Even if the police have collected evidence with a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, you have a chance to present your defense if you don’t automatically plead guilty -- and this chance can work in your favor.
For more information about your legal options after a DUI/DWI charge, contact a New Jersey DWI lawyer at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA today.