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In New Jersey, a DUI/DWI conviction can have severe consequences. Read on to learn more about what you need to know when facing drunk driving charges from a knowledgeable New Jersey DUI lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

DUI FAQs: Understanding the Key Terms in Your DUI Case

Q: What are the most common DUI myths? 


Q: What is the Alcotest?

The Alcotest is the instrument the New Jersey police use to test suspected drunk drivers’ blood alcohol content (BAC). Alcotest devices are prone to errors and malfunctions, and you may be able to challenge your Alcotest results as part of your DUI/DWI defense.

Q: What are field sobriety tests (FSTs)?

The police use field sobriety tests to obtain evidence to support DUI/DWI arrests. The most common FSTs are (i) the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, (ii) the walk-and-turn test and (iii) the one-leg stand test. Unlike the breath test (see Implied Consent, below), you are not required to submit to FSTs in New Jersey.

Q: What is a summons?

A summons is the “ticket” you receive after a DUI arrest. It is very important that you keep your summons because it includes the date of your arraignment.

Q: What is an arraignment?

The arraignment is the first court appearance after a DUI/DWI arrest. It typically happens, at the latest, within a week following the arrest. It is very important that you attend your arraignment unless your New Jersey DUI lawyer advises you otherwise.

Q: What is “implied consent”?

Implied consent is a legal term that refers to the statute that requires all drivers in New Jersey to submit to a breath test during a DUI/DWI traffic stop. If you refuse a breath test in violation of New Jersey’s implied consent law, you will face an additional charge and penalties on top of your DUI/DWI.

Q: What are “reasonable suspicion” and “probable cause”?

Reasonable suspicion is the Constitutional standard that applies to traffic stops—the police cannot pull you over without reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause, but the police must still be able to articulate a specific, factually-supported basis for making a stop.

Probable cause is the Constitutional standard that applies to DUI/DWI arrests—the police cannot arrest you unless they have probable cause to do so. In order to establish probable cause, the police must have a logical belief supported by evidence that you are guilty of a traffic offense or crime.

DUI FAQs: Penalties, Defense Strategies and What to Do

Q: Is Drunk Driving a Criminal Offense in New Jersey?

You may have heard that drunk driving is not a criminal offense in New Jersey. While this is true (in New Jersey, DUI/DWI is considered a traffic offense), the consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction are on par with those for many disorderly persons offenses and indictable offenses.

However, there are still a number of other reasons why the classification of DUI/DWI as a traffic offense is important. First, you cannot request a jury trial for a traffic offense—your DUI/DWI case will be tried by a judge (known as a “bench trial”). Second, as someone facing charges for a traffic offense and not a crime, you are not eligible for any type of pre-trial probation or diversionary program. It should also be noted that traffic matters, unlike criminal matters, cannot be expunged from an abstract.

Q: What are the Penalties for Drunk Driving in New Jersey?

New Jersey has some of the harshest drunk driving penalties in the nation, especially if you have previously been convicted of DWI/DUI in the state or elsewhere. A drunk-driving conviction will result in the assessment of thousands of dollars of fines, penalties, and insurance surcharges against you.

Did you know that any DWI conviction will result in a loss of your ability to drive legally in New Jersey for an extended period of time?  Did you know that you could lose your driver’s license for ten (10) years and be required to spend 180 days in jail if you are convicted of a third time drunk-driving offense? Did you know that if your driver license is not from New Jersey but from another state, a DWI conviction in New Jersey may be reported to your home state and your home state may then choose to suspend your driver license based upon your New Jersey DWI conviction? 

If you have been charged with DUI/DWI, the potential penalties in your case will depend on factors such as whether you have any prior convictions, whether your blood alcohol content (BAC) was above 0.10 percent, whether you caused an accident and whether you were arrested in a school zone. For a standard first-time drunk driving arrest, your sentence could include:

  • Mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices in your vehicles
  • Mandatory 3-12 months driver’s license suspension, if convicted
  • Up to $400 in fines plus additional surcharges
  • Up to 30 days in jail
  • Up to 48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver’s Resource Center

With a DUI on your permanent record, you may also find it difficult to obtain jobs in certain occupations; and, even if you are able to find employment (or keep your old job), you may find it to be difficult or impossible to go to work and support your family while your driver license is suspended. We encourage you to contact our New Jersey DUI lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Q: What if I Refused to Take the Alcotest?

Under New Jersey’s “implied consent” law, if you get pulled over for drunk driving, you are legally required to submit to a chemical test of your BAC. This test is commonly performed with an Alcotest (breathalyzer test). If you do not take the test when requested to do so by an officer, regardless of the reason, you will be charged with Refusal to Take Breath Tests in addition to DWI, and will could be facing penalties in addition to those that apply to your DUI/DWI charge. Since a “Refusal” is a separate offense, you can be penalized for violating New Jersey’s implied consent law even if you are not ultimately found guilty of DUI/DWI. Refusal is legally similar to drunk-driving and carries most of the same penalties.

Q: What are Possible Defenses to DUI/DWI Charges in New Jersey?

There are numerous potential defenses to DUI/DWI charges, and the defenses that are available in your case will depend upon the unique circumstances before, during and after your arrest. Some potential defenses to drunk driving charges in New Jersey include:

  • Alcotest machine errors – The device that the police used to check your blood alcohol content (BAC), the Alcotest instrument, is a very complex piece of machinery. Sometimes it does not function correctly, and the BAC results of the test may not be admissible against you in court.
  • Police procedural mistakes – There are a great number of specific procedures that the police may follow before they administer the Alcotest to you. If they do not follow the procedures exactly, the judge may not allow the results of the Alcotest to be used against you.
  • Language issues – You can be charged with Refusing to Take a Breath Test any time you are requested to take an Alcotest but do not do so. If you do not speak English, you may not have understood what the police officer was telling you to do and may have been charged with Refusal in error. If you were not given the instructions in your native language, the Refusal charge against you may be dismissed.
  • Mistaken Refusals – In order for the Alcotest to work properly, you must blow into it strongly and for a long period of time. If you have a serious medical condition which would prevent you from blowing enough air into the machine, you may have been charged with Refusal by mistake.

Depending on the facts of your case, additional potential defenses may include:

  • Alternate explanation for your driving behavior
  • “False positive” BAC results due to consumption of chocolate, breath mints or certain other types of foods
  • Failure to adhere to the New Jersey Superior Court’s requirements for sobriety checkpoints
  • Improper administration of field sobriety tests (FSTs) or interpretation of FST results
  • Unlawful traffic stop or drunk driving arrest

Q: What Should I Do After a Drunk Driving Arrest?

There are both steps you need to take and mistakes you need to avoid after a DUI/DWI arrest in New Jersey. Our DUI/DWI checklist starts with reviewing the key facts related to your arrest, and our list of common mistakes covers seven important issues that can jeopardize a drunk driving defense.

DUI FAQs: Hiring a New Jersey DUI Lawyer for Your Case         

Q: Why should I hire an attorney to represent me?

The list of reasons to hire an attorney for your DUI case is substantial. First and foremost are the consequences: If you get convicted, you will be at risk for all the penalties discussed above and having a DUI on your permanent record can impact your life for decades to come.

Second, when you to go court (and you will have to go to court), you will be up against state prosecutors. These are attorneys whose job is to obtain convictions and pursue maximum sentencing at trial. Without an attorney, you simply are not on a level playing field.

Third, regardless of the facts of your case, and even if you are sure you got caught drinking and driving, you potentially have several defenses available. Knowing which defenses to assert – and how to assert them effectively – requires the knowledge and insights of an experienced DUI lawyer in New Jersey.

Q: What factors should I consider when choosing an attorney for my DUI case?

When choosing a New Jersey DUI lawyer for your case, there are several factors to keep in mind. Most importantly, you want an attorney who has significant relevant experience. This means that you want an attorney who has years, if not decades, of representing DUI defendants in New Jersey. Other factors to consider include:

  • Firm size and capacity – Is the firm well-staffed? Does it have the personnel and resources to handle your case efficiently?
  • Rates – What rates will you be charged? Are these rates commensurate with your attorney’s experience? Will you be billed for other costs and fees as well?
  • Client reviews and testimonials – Would past clients recommend the attorney? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • Responsiveness – How long after you call or submit your case online does it take to receive a response? Is this indicative of what you can expect during your case?

Q: What questions can I ask during my initial consultation?

During your initial consultation, you should feel free to ask any questions you have about your case or the attorney’s experience. If an attorney is unwilling (or unable) to answer questions about his or her background or experience, this will usually be a bad sign. Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • How long have you been handling DUI cases in New Jersey?
  • How many DUI cases have you handled?
  • Will you handle my case personally?
  • What are the potential outcomes of my case?

Q: Will everything I say be kept confidential?

Yes. When you hire a New Jersey DUI lawyer, everything you say regarding your case will be kept strictly confidential. To ensure that your attorney can present the strongest possible defense, it is important for you to be as honest and straightforward with your attorney as possible.

Q: What am I entitled to expect from my attorney?

As a client, you are entitled to expect that your attorney will handle your case diligently, professionally and with the degree of competence required to effectively represent your interests at trial. You are entitled to receive responses to your inquiries, and you are entitled to be kept up-to-date and actively involved regarding all key aspects of your case. It is your case, and your attorney is working for you.

Contact a DUI/DWI Defense Lawyer at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

With 13 office locations in New Jersey (and one in New York), Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. represents individuals charged with DUI/DWI and related traffic offenses throughout New Jersey. If you have been arrested for drunk driving, you need skilled legal representation. For a free and confidential consultation with one of our experienced DUI lawyers, call 1-877-435-6371 or contact us online today.

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