Misconceptions People Have When Arrested for a DWI in New Jersey
One top misconception people have is that they can’t be convicted of DWI if their blood alcohol concentration is lower than 0.08, or that they can’t be convicted if they were driving under the influence of one of their prescribed medications. That’s a big issue, because some people may say, “Look, I’m prescribed Valium,” or, “I’ve been prescribed Percocet,” and they say, “The doctors prescribed it to me. How can I be driving under the influence?” The statute is clear. If you drive under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug, you are guilty of DWI. Taking your medicine and driving could get you convicted, or at least charged.
Do you ever hear people say, “I was not read my Miranda Rights during the questioning outside the car, so I must just get this thrown out”? Is that a misunderstanding that people might have?
Many people think it’s “no harm, no foul.” Miranda Rights will only apply if you are in custody and are being interrogated and then give an incriminating answer. For the most part, when you are arrested, the police officers may read you your rights, but if you have not given a statement where you’re incriminating yourself or saying something that tends to show that you’re guilty, not being read your Miranda Rights is not going to help you.
What have you seen in terms of people’s behavior and their reaction to being arrested or prosecuted for a DWI, especially someone who’s maybe never had any sort of contact with the law?
People’s emotions or reactions run the gamut from being completely calm and cool about it to having an emotional breakdown and crying. Actually, sometimes crying can help, because if you cry and the tears go into your mouth, it may produce an unreliable breath sample because the tears arguably contain alcohol.
Is there a particular kind of situation that people seem to find themselves in, such as, “I only had a couple of beers. It was no big deal. I’m just surprised I’m in this situation”? Or does it go more like, “Hey, I knew I went out and got blasted”?
Some people know that they shouldn’t have been behind the wheel; others may have had a glass of wine or two and feel fine but their blood alcohol concentration is still above the legal limit. New Jersey isn’t a subjective statute test, meaning if you feel fine, then you’re okay to drive. You may feel fine, but if your blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit, you could be found guilty.
How public is a DWI arrest in New Jersey?
It’s a 100 percent public record. For the most part, though, if somebody wanted to find out if you were arrested, they would have to go to the town where it happened and check the police records or make what’s called an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request. Generally speaking, these charges don’t hit the newspaper, but they can. There are police blotters, police Facebook pages, and arrests that are reported in the local newspapers. It is a matter of public record.
If there is an accident involved, would that make it more newsworthy?
It depends how serious the accident was. If it was just a minor one, then probably not, but if it was an accident with a fatality, it could be more newsworthy. The drunk driving charge would turn into a felony in case of fatality.
What are some common mistakes you see people make once they’ve been arrested for a DWI that can potentially hurt their case?
Being aggressive towards the officer and making comments that incriminate themselves about how much they had to drink. That’s about it.
What should you tell police officers, if anything, if they ask, “Have you had anything to drink?” Should you be honest? What would you recommend?
That’s a catch-22. My general advice to people is to remain silent but be cooperative and admit nothing. The problem, though, as I have seen in my experience, is if you drank and there is an odor of alcohol on your breath and then the officer asks, “Have you been drinking,” and you say no, the officer may call you out and say, “I don’t believe you,” or, “I think you’re lying because I can smell the alcohol.” That would naturally be a problem.
Many people charged with DWI/DUI think they should just plead guilty because they did it. Why do they need an attorney and why is it a bad idea to just throw yourself at the mercy of the court?
It’s not a good idea to not have an attorney. The best thing that an attorney can do is review all the police reports, all the paperwork concerning the machine on which you were tested, and see whether or not there is a defense to your case. That starts from the moment that the police officer pulls you over until he or she finishes processing you. There are constitutional issues, for example, regarding whether there was probable cause to pull you over; there are issues concerning the machine and whether it was in proper working order or whether the officer operated it properly; and there are things about you physically, that could cause them not to properly perform the standardized field sobriety tests. All of these things can help defend somebody who is charged with a DWI.
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