Protect Yourself By Knowing The Laws
A number of websites publish online the statutes defining New Jersey dui laws and other NJ motor vehicle offenses.
But for the average driver reading statutes and case law is not very helpful. It is much more important and useful to understand the practical side of DUI and traffic enforcement.
Police departments, like all organizations, respond to incentives. And current laws and public policy—by written law and formal and informal policy consensus—incentivize arrest and breath testing on the barest cause for suspicion.
Based upon my experience defending clients charged under New Jersey dui laws, it appears that a minor traffic infraction in combination with a perceived breath odor of an alcoholic beverage will prompt the majority of police officers to arrest a motorist and demand breath testing.
Regardless of the circumstances an arrestee should agree to be breath tested at the police station and should cooperate with that process. The breath testing device used in New Jersey, the Alcotest 7110 MKIIIC, can be defended against regardless of the alleged breath reading—at least I can usually defend against it because I know its flaws and defects.
Other than a legal obligation to cooperate in providing breath samples, there is no obligation to answer any questions, e.g., about prior activities, where the driver was earlier, where he is coming from, whether he drank alcohol. The right to privacy and personal dignity obtains from the moment a person is stopped. In my view this includes the right to decline to answer personal questions. (The formal legal right to silence is triggered at the moment of arrest rather than initial detention at roadside.) In fact the only legal obligations are to promptly and safely stop a motor vehicle when the police signal to do so; present driver license, vehicle registration and insurance card; step out of the motor vehicle if and when ordered by the police to do so; physically submit to arrest if and when ordered by the police to do so; and submit breath samples at the police station if and when ordered by the police to do so.
There is no legal obligation to do so-called field sobriety tests, and it is nearly always in a motorist’s best interest to politely decline to even attempt any such degrading contortions. The practical reality is that such testing has no established scientific or objective basis, and it is used in the real world to justify arrests and to put the arrestee in a poor light if the case were to be tried in court. From what I can see, in most cases a police officer has determined to arrest for breath testing at the moment he decided to order a motorist to step out. Field sobriety testing is usually “sold” to the motorist as a chance to be let go, however. In practical reality it is better to interpret the demand for field testing as a disclosure that one will be arrested no matter what happens from that moment on. Then, simply be mentally prepared, submit quietly to arrest, politely continue to decline to answer questions, and submit to breath testing and get the entire process over as quickly as possible.
I will have more to say about New Jersey DUI laws in practice.