In a recent NJ.com article, expert lawyers in DUI laws revealed how they attack drunk driving charges. Normally, defense lawyers rely on plea bargaining when a client is charged with a crime. Plea bargaining involves an agreement between a prosecutor and defendant where the defendant will plead to a lesser charge in return for dismissal of other charges or to the original charge in lieu of a lighter sentence. Sometimes it may involve a quid pro quo to the prosecutor for information leading to other crimes. But New Jersey does not allow plea bargaining in DUI cases. As a result, defense lawyers have no choice except to work to dismiss the DUI case entirely or prove the evidence results in a downgrade to a lesser charge.
According to the article, oftentimes, defense lawyers will find a technicality. For example, lawyers will challenge a blood draw (which now under both state and federal law must be preceded by a warrant) by demanding an explanation as to how it was performed. The results can be suppressed if the draw was not done by a physician or nurse, or the area was cleaned with alcohol instead of iodine. Some of the sample must be made available to the defense to conduct their own independent tests; failure to do so may result in suppression.
Blood results corroborated by field sobriety tests is stronger evidence of DUI; however, in cases involving injuries to a driver, field tests are foreclosed, leaving only the blood tests. If challenged, again, the case can be dismissed. Issues can arise from the accident scene itself, which can also result in a dismissal. As stated, warrants are necessary in order to perform a blood draw. According to William Proetta of Edison, a defense lawyer that was interviewed, “[I]f a person doesn’t consent or is unconscious, you need to call in a telephonic warrant. If emergency workers are asking the driver questions, without having Mirandized him, an attorney would argue those statements can’t be used against him.” Telephonic warrants are faster to obtain and are encouraged by the courts.
Breath tests using an Alcotest have a different set of procedures–all of which can be challenged in a suppression motion. Repair and calibration records may be subpoenaed, and failure by the State to do so may result in a dismissal. Officers conducting the test must get two successful readings and change the mouth pieces between each reading. The person must be observed for 20 uninterrupted minutes and cannot regurgitate or vomit, as this will produce a false reading. No cell phones or electronic devices can be present in the room.
Lawyers say there are many other ways to challenge the results. They recommend that people pulled over for a DUI not refuse the test, because refusal is a separate charge. The challenge becomes a little trickier in that they have to show the officer read the driver “the wrong statement” when asking if they will take the test. Also, the driver has to clearly say “No.” not once, but twice, to be considered refusal and ambiguous answers, such as, “‘I don’t know.'” or “‘I want a lawyer.'” are not enough.
Defense lawyers will employ experts, often former police officers who are trained in the Alcotest, to testify as to what the officers should have done. Also, discovery challenges are commonplace. If the prosecutor fails to produce discovery within 30 days, that can result in a dismissal. Dashcam video must produced as well; but that can be a double-edged sword. It can be used to impeach an officer’s testimony, or in the alternative, prove that the defendant in fact could not stand or was slurring his or her words.
A DUI can be proven by an officer’s observations as well, without the aid of other evidence. According to Ernesto Cerimele, a DUI defense lawyer in Newark,
If the officer’s report says the driver reeked of alcohol and admitted to drinking several beers, that still counts . . . . Even if the blood or Alcotest evidence is thrown out, if the officer’s observations of the driver and the ‘totality of the circumstances’ point to a driver being intoxicated, he can still be found guilty. The harder cases to defend against are frequently those where the officer fully documents everything he heard and observed in his police report.
Finally, the case can be dismissed if a trial is delayed beyond 60 days, pursuant to New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts’ guidelines. Based on hardship, inequity and the right under the Sixth Amendment to a speedy trial, a defense lawyer can move for dismissal if the prosecution does not have his or her case ready in time. In one case cited by the article, a prosecutor was given an extra 30 days to produce discovery and failed. That resulted in an immediate dismissal by the judge.