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As a United States citizen and a driver in the State of New Jersey, you have important rights when the police pull you over. Knowing your rights can help you make smart decisions on the side of the road; or if it is too late for that, understanding whether your rights have been violated will be critical to building the strongest possible defense for your DUI/DWI trial.
If the police violated your rights, this could provide a defense to your DUI/DWI charge. This is true even if there is no question that you were driving while impaired or intoxicated. Violations of suspects’ rights can lead to evidence being deemed inadmissible, and this can lead to prosecutors lacking the evidence they need to meet their burden of proof.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you have the right not to be stopped without reasonable suspicion, and the police cannot arrest you without probable cause. The police must have a specific reason for pulling you over (i.e. you were speeding or drifting onto the shoulder), and they cannot place you under arrest you unless the evidence suggests that you are guilty of DUI/DWI.
The Fourth Amendment also entitles you not to consent to a search of your vehicle. If the arresting officer searches your vehicle without your consent (and without a warrant), any evidence obtained may be inadmissible in your DUI/DWI case.
When you are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, the police officer who stops you will ask you lots of questions: How much have you had to drink? Where were you drinking? Do you have any alcohol in the vehicle?
You do not have to answer these questions, and you should not do so. You have the right to remain silent, and you need to resist the officer’s attempts to get you to say things that can be used against you.
From the moment you are pulled over, you have the right to legal representation. This means that you can refuse to speak with the officer or take any field sobriety tests (FSTs) without your attorney present.
If you consent to taking the field sobriety tests (FSTs), you are entitled to a clear explanation of the testing procedures. If the arresting officer does not accurately explain how you are supposed to perform the tests, your test results may be deemed inadmissible at trial.
Not only do you have the right to a clear explanation of the FST procedures, but you also have the right to refuse to take the FSTs. While you cannot refuse the Alcotest (more on this below), you are well within your rights to politely decline to perform the walk-and-turn, horizontal gaze nystagmus, and one-leg stand tests.
If you are not being arrested, you have the right to move on with your day. The police cannot detain you if they do not have probable cause to make an arrest.
If the police wish to interrogate you while in custody, they must read you your rights. This is known as the Miranda warning that you often hear about from movies and TV. If the police question you while in custody without reading the Miranda warning – and if you make a statement that the prosecutor subsequently tries to use against you – your lawyer may be able to use the Miranda violation as a way to have your statement suppressed from the case.
These are not all of your rights, but they are some of the most important. For more information, contact our firm now for a free consultation.
If the police violated your rights, what does this mean for your DUI/DWI case? At the moment, it doesn’t mean anything. Unfortunately, the police frequently violate suspects’ rights (though not always knowingly or intentionally), and in many cases, these mistakes never get addressed.
To use the violation of your rights as a defense in your DUI/DWI case, you must raise the issue in court. This is up to you. It is not something that the police or prosecutors are going to do for you.
You must specifically identify the violation—what right was violated and when and how the violation occurred—and then you must file a motion. Once you file your motion, the judge will consider the available evidence, and he or she will decide both (i) whether a violation occurred; and, if so, (ii) whether this means that certain evidence should be excluded from your DUI/DWI case.
Due to the challenges involved (and the severe consequences of being wrongfully convicted of DUI/DWI), if you believe that the police violated your rights, you should promptly consult with an attorney. Your attorney will be able to determine if you have a motion to file. If you do, your attorney can seek to have the relevant evidence excluded from your DUI/DWI case. If the prosecution’s remaining evidence is insufficient to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then this could mean that you are entitled to a dismissal.
Importantly, in New Jersey, one right you do not have is the right to refuse the Alcotest. Under the state’s implied consent law, you can face additional charges and penalties if you refuse to submit to a chemical test of your blood alcohol content (BAC).
After a DUI/DWI arrest in New Jersey, the legal process moves quickly. Here is what you can generally expect once you have been ticketed in a drunk driving arrest:
At some point before the end of your encounter with the police, you most likely received a summons (this is your “ticket”). The summons should identify the traffic offenses with which you are being charged, and it should state the date of your first court date, which is called an “arraignment.”
The arraignment happens quickly—usually within a week, and often with a few days of the arrest. During the arraignment, a judge will read the charges against you, inform you of the potential penalties and advise you to seek legal representation (if you have not done so already). Unless your attorney advises you to waive the arraignment and files the necessary paperwork, it is extremely important that you attend.
When you hire a DUI lawyer to handle your DUI/DWI case, either before or after the arraignment, one of the first things your lawyer should do is request information from the prosecution. This part of the process is known as “discovery.” In a typical case, a DUI/DWI defense attorney will request information and records such as:
In addition, depending upon the circumstances involved, your attorney may conduct an independent investigation. This could involve hiring an investigator to take photos of the scene, talking to witnesses and collecting any other evidence that could support your defense.
Once the discovery process is underway, your attorney and the prosecutor will meet to discuss your case. Depending upon the facts and nature of your case, these discussions may result in the prosecutor offering a downgraded charge. If you receive an acceptable offer and the court approves of the lesser offense, your case can be resolved prior to trial. If not, your attorney will continue fighting on your behalf.
If it appears that any of the evidence against you was illegally obtained, your attorney may move to have the evidence suppressed (excluded) from your trial. Your attorney will also file any motions necessary to challenge any other violations of your legal and Constitutional rights.
DUI trials are fairly rare. More often than not, DUI cases are resolved by motions. Still, once all of the pretrial matters have been resolved, your case may end up going to trial before a judge (which is known as a “bench trial”). Your attorney will present your defense strategy, and the prosecutor will argue for conviction. If the judge is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the offense (or offenses) charged, you will be sentenced immediately. If the judge finds you not guilty, you will be free to go.
If you are facing drunk driving charges in New Jersey, contact the defense team at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. for a free and confidential consultation. To speak with one of our experienced DUI/DWI defense attorneys, call 1-877-435-6371 or get in touch online now.
Don’t let your rights be jeopardized.