In New Jersey, driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) charge can be proven several ways to the court. Most commonly, prosecutors use blood alcohol content (BAC) evidence, obtained by breath tests, blood tests, or a urine test, to prove intoxication. Much less commonly, however, DWI prosecutions can be secured through witness testimony, specifically by the arresting officer’s testimony or others observing the driver in question at and around the time of the DUI arrest.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that, in order to form an admissible opinion as to the defendant’s state of intoxication, no particular expertise is necessary. That is to say, any individual may offer relevant testimony to the court regarding a driver’s state of intoxication. Furthermore, a recent ruling by the New Jersey Appellate Division holds that officer testimony regarding a defendant’s intoxication can and will supersede a BAC finding of less than the legal limit (.08 percent). This ruling comes from State v Colabella where even though the defendant’s BAC was not high enough to create a presumption of impairment, the court accepted witness testimony as enough evidence to convict.
Monmouth County NJ DUI/DWI Arrest Defense Attorney
When a DUI/DWI conviction is obtained through BAC evidence, it is what as known as a “per se DUI”. There is a separate offense for refusing a breath test, clearly showing how important the courts considers the evidence these tests provide to be. But as we have seen, BAC evidence is not strictly required for a DUI conviction. The NJ statute refers to DUI as driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or other substances OR having a BAC of .08 percent or higher. This opens the door for prosecutors to introduce evidence that a driver was “under the influence” even with a lack of BAC evidence or correlation. Officer testimony regarding the defendant’s driving, their demeanor or appearance, the odor of alcohol present, or their performance on the field sobriety test can all be considered relevant information to the court.
State v Colabella
In the aforementioned case of State v Colabella, the defendant was attempting to challenge their DUI conviction in the Appellate court. According to the court, the arresting officer pulled the defendant over for an illegal turn and an expired inspection sticker. The officer further testified that he detected a powerful smell of alcohol coming from the car, that the defendant had blood-shot and watery eyes, and that a strong smell of alcohol was detected. The defendant reportedly told the arresting officer he had drunk a single beer and taken some ibuprofen.
When the officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle, according to testimony the defendant stumbled out of the car and needed assistance to stop from falling. The defendant claims he was “unable to properly perform physical tests” owing to “nerve damage”. He reportedly performed quite poorly on the field sobriety test, the officer determined enough evidence existed for an arrest and gave the defendant a breath test, which showed a BAC of .06. A drug recognition expert (DRE) testified that a BAC of .06 is consistent with more than one drink, contrary to the defendant’s earlier statement. The municipal judge, in this case, convicted the defendant of DUI, citing police and expert testimony as being sufficient evidence for a conviction.
The defendant then appealed to the Appellate Division, arguing that his .06 BAC result did not support a DUI conviction. This court cited two different New Jersey Supreme Court cases which supported intoxication testimony, regardless of physical evidence. The appeals court affirmed the ruling, finding that the weight of the officer’s testimony was sufficient to overcome a lack of BAC evidence.
Contact a Middlesex County NJ DUI/DWI Attorney
When arrested for a DUI charge in New Jersey, it is highly recommended that you retain experienced legal counsel to represent your interests from the onset. The DUI attorneys at Chamlin, Uliano & Walsh have experience pursuing a wide variety of avenues in order to defend your driving under the influence case. If you or a loved one has been charged with DUI/DWI, contact us online or at our West Long Branch NJ offices today at 732-440-3950 or toll-free at 888-328-9131.