Legal Definition of Intoxicated
Impaired driving is one of the most common traffic offenses. According to data published by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, an average of 26,500 people are convicted of a DWI or a related offense in the state each year. To be convicted of a DWI in New Jersey, a prosecutor must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle while “intoxicated.”
This raises an important question: what is the legal definition of intoxication under New Jersey’s DWI law? The short answer is that there are two ways for prosecutors to prove intoxication — a measured blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or an observational assessment. Here, New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer Matthew V. Portella provides a more detailed discussion of the definition of intoxication in New Jersey.
The Legal Definition of Intoxicated in New Jersey
A BAC Level of 0.08% or Higher (known as per se Intoxication)
As explained by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, a motorist is guilty of the offense of driving while intoxicated if they “operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater.” A driver found in control of a motor vehicle while having a BAC of 0.08% or higher has committed a per se violation of New Jersey’s DWI law.
A Latin term that means “by itself”, the term “per se” is frequently used in the legal profession. A per se violation is an inherent violation. In other words, a driver who has a measured BAC of 0.08% in a valid chemical test is intoxicated under New Jersey law. No other evidence is needed to prove intoxication. As long as the results of the breath test or blood test are accepted as legitimate by the court, the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove a DWI offense.
An Observational Assessment
In New Jersey, a motorist can be deemed “intoxicated” without a valid chemical test if the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, or habit producing drug such that they suffered a substantial deterioration or diminution of the mental faculties or physical capabilities.
In other words, the prosecution can try to make a case based solely on “observational” evidence. In the 1964 case of State v. Johnson, the Supreme Court of New Jersey set an important precedent by upholding an intoxicated driving conviction “even without consideration of the drunkometer reading.” A questionable breathalyzer test result was not sufficient to get a DWI/DUI charge thrown out because there was significant observational evidence, including:
- The testimony of the arresting officer concerning the driver’s erratic operation of a motor vehicle;
- Statements (admissions) by the defendant that they drank alcohol or took a narcotic, or habit producing drug; and
- The results of the field sobriety tests were performed by the driver.
Summary: A BAC of 0.08% or higher is per se (by itself) intoxication in New Jersey. Beyond that, prosecutors may prove intoxication without a valid chemical test using observational evidence, such as a police officer’s testimony and admissions by the defendant.
Contact Our New Jersey Intoxicated Driving Defense Attorney Today
At the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, our New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyer, Matthew V. Portella, is has protected the rights of people driving in New Jersey for over 25 years. If you have any questions about the legal definition of intoxicated, he can help.
Contact us today for a strictly confidential review and evaluation of your case. With legal offices in Haddonfield and Pleasantville, Matthew V. Portella defends intoxicated driving charges throughout New Jersey , including in Camden County, Burlington County, Atlantic County, Gloucester County, Cumberland County, and Salem County.