Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in New Jersey
Defense Attorney Matthew V. Portella Represents People Charged With DWI Throughout New Jersey
Many people get charged with driving under the influence even though they believed they were perfectly capable of driving legally, especially when they are taking prescription medications or have other drugs in their system. The police can pull you over for something as minor as a broken tail light, and then decide that you appear to be intoxicated. These situations tend to unravel quickly – just getting pulled over is a nerve-wracking experience. The next thing you know is that you’re under arrest and facing criminal charges for driving under the influence of drugs, commonly known as DWI or DUI in New Jersey.
DWI defense attorney Matthew V. Portella has 25 years of experience in defending people against many different charges, including drug-related DUIs. If you’ve been arrested, you should contact an attorney to make sure that your Constitutional rights are protected. If you’re facing charges, you need to contact an attorney right away before you have a permanent conviction on your record. Mr. Portella provides his clients with an aggressive, competent, and thorough defense to make sure you get a fair result. If you would like to discuss your case with him, contact our office online or call us at (856) 310-9800 for a free consultation.
Drug-Related DUI/DWI Explained
When you mention DUI/DWI, most people assume that you are referring to driving while under the influence of alcohol. However, like every other state, New Jersey makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicating “narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.”
Note that this prohibition is extremely broad and could apply to not only illegal drugs but also prescription drugs prescribed or taken under the supervision of a physician. New Jersey caselaw also includes things like glue and other substances with intoxicating fumes. The critical component is that the substance produces an “intoxicating” effect upon the user. New Jersey defines intoxication to be “a disturbance of mental or physical capacities resulting from the introduction of substances into the body.” Therefore, just about any drug that could impair your mental or physical capacities while driving could result in a DUI/DWI.
Possible Penalties for DUI/DWI
If convicted of DUI/DWI, you will be facing possible jail time, fines, and suspension of your driver’s license. The severity of the penalty will also vary according to whether you have prior DWI or refusing to give breath samples convictions and the circumstances surrounding your case.
|First Offense||Second Offense||Third and Subsequent Offenses|
|Jail sentence||At the discretion of the court, not to exceed 30 days||Not less than 48 hours but not more than 90 days||Not less than 180 days, although the term may be reduced by up to 90 days if you serve time in an inpatient treatment facility|
|Suspension of driver’s license||Minimum of seven months up to one year||Two-year suspension||10-year suspension|
There is also the requirement of an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for a drug-related DWI. For a first offense, you must have the interlock for six months to one year after you suspension. That time increases to one to three years after a second or third offense.
The court can also impose additional penalties such as community service and enrollment in a treatment program. There is mandatory 30 days community service for a second conviction. You will also be sentenced to complete 12 to 48 hours of the state Intoxicated Driver Resource Program, which includes paying a $280 fee for the program.
A first-time offense for DUID receives the same punishment as an alcohol-related DUI, except when it comes to suspension of your driving privileges. A first-time offender for an alcohol-related DUI faces only a three-month suspension if the BAC is 0.08 or 0.09 or if there is no reading, and a 0.010 or higher BAC is seven months to one year. A first-time drug-related DWI can result in a suspension of seven months to one year.
Driver’s license suspensions are a particularly serious concern since New Jersey does not grant work licenses or daytime licenses. If a driver is suspended, then he or she cannot drive a vehicle at all during the time that his or her driving privileges are suspended. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:40-26, the penalties for driving on a suspended license are severe when the suspension was due to a DWI/DUI conviction. Such penalties can include:
- For a first offense, you can spend 10 to 90 days in jail and pay a fine of up to $1,500, plus an additional license suspension up to two years.
- For a second suspended license conviction, you can be charged with a fourth-degree crime and face a minimum of 180 days in jail and a $10,000 fine.
The bottom line is that drug-related DUI charges are every bit as serious as an alcohol-related DUI. Even if you are a first-time offender, a conviction could carry serious consequences – a criminal record, loss of your driver’s license, increased insurance premiums, and even difficulty keeping your job or finding employment.
The Challenges of a DUID
For the state to charge you with DUI, the officer who pulled you over must first suspect that you are driving while under the influence. Here are some of the factors that officers rely on as probable cause to pull you over:
- Weaving and unable to stay in your lane
- Driving unusually slow or speeding
- Driving without your headlights on after dark
- Violation of other various traffic laws
Once you have been pulled over, the officer will likely rely upon his or her observations of your appearance and your performance on the standardized field sobriety tests in order to charge you with DWI. In the context of an alcohol-related DUI, this is typically confirmed by administering a breathalyzer test, called an Alcotest in N.J., in order to measure your blood alcohol content (BAC). For suspected drug DUIs, the officer will still use the Alcotest to see if you’ve been drinking, but will also ask you to consent to either a blood or urine test. You should understand that under current law, you can always decline to give urine and a court usually cannot issue a warrant for urine. For blood samples, the officer may have a medically trained person take the blood without a warrant if exigent circumstances exist.
Urine tests can be unreliable, as different substances stay in your system longer than others. For example, marijuana is detectable in a urine test days after use, while other substances leave your system in a matter of hours.
The other alternative is for the officer to ask a medically trained person to administer a blood test. In order to perform a blood test, law enforcement must follow several procedural requirements in order to obtain a valid sample.
Prosecutors often rely upon the officer’s observational evidence to prove a drug-related DWI. However, fatigue, illness, and other circumstances can create the appearance that you are intoxicated, even though you were not, so an officer’s observations of intoxication may be challenged by your defense attorney.
As attitudes and laws relax regarding the use of marijuana, marijuana-related DUIs are becoming increasingly common. As discussed above, the police will often administer a blood or urine test to determine that you have marijuana in your system. The case of State v. Bealor also allows for police officers to give a qualified lay opinion as to whether a person is under the influence of marijuana, so blood and urine testing is not always required to prove the State’s case. Even if the police administer a test, the results only prove that marijuana was in your system, not that you were actively under the influence of the drug. The officer will need more, such as observations of bloodshot eyes, an admission by you that you had recently smoked marijuana, or an inability to perform the standardized field sobriety tests to prove your intoxication.
The law in New Jersey regarding DWIs involving marijuana is complicated. Many DUIs require testimony from a drug recognition expert (DRE), but a DRE is not required in certain cases involving marijuana – testimony from the arresting officer based on their training and experience may be sufficient.
Prescription Drug DUIs
Using prescription drugs as directed by a doctor can also, surprisingly, result in a DUI. Under New Jersey law, the fact that the drug was validly prescribed and taken as directed is not a defense to DUI. Again, law enforcement will need to prove not just that the drug was in your system, but that you were driving while intoxicated or under the influence as a result of the drug. Illness, fatigue, or other factors could have contributed to the appearance that you were intoxicated.
Contact a New Jersey DUI and DWI Defense Attorney
If you’re facing DWI charges, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after being charged with the offense. You are entitled to a fair result, and you need someone on your side to protect your rights. DUI defense attorney Matthew Portella has 25 years of experience defending people charged with DWIs. He will provide you with an aggressive defense by challenging every aspect of the prosecutor’s case – for example, the basis for pulling you over, the officer’s observations, and how many and which sobriety tests the officer administered and how well you performed them.
Please call the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, at (856) 310-9800 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation and discuss how we can help you.
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“I want to thank Mr. Portella for taking my case. What an amazing law office and attorney. He is very professional and got all of my charges dismissed. If I ever need an attorney again, Mr. Portella will be the one I call. Thank you again!”-A.M.
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