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Defending Cases Involving Intoxicated Drivers

The defense of cases involving charges of intoxicated driving begins with a thorough client interview. An attorney must know the medical and psychological history of the client, family history, education, and employment history before even discussing the events leading to the arrest. Every aspect of the accused person's background is extremely important in evaluating the evidence. Integrating the client's history with the law relating to the offense presents client and attorney with the right information to make crucial tactical decisions necessary to a successful defense.

Under recent enactments in New Jersey lowering the blood alcohol level to 0.08%, a conviction for drunk driving will result in a minimum loss of an accused person's driving privilege for a period of three months. In addition to a loss of license in New Jersey, residents of other states run the risk of having their privilege to drive suspended in their home states.

Besides fines, loss of license and mandatory educational programs, a person convicted of drunk driving faces jail if the conviction is for a second or third violation. Since the penalties are grave, an attorney must know the personal consequences to his client, that is, the impact of a license suspension on a client's job, family, education and even professional status. The client must know what is involved in defending a drunk-driving case or other case involving drinking and driving in order to make critical decisions necessary to challenge the accusation.

There are three basic components to a proper defense. First, the attorney must investigate to determine whether there was probable cause to justify the stop and seizure of the defendant. This is known as probable cause or reasonable suspicion that an offense occurred. When challenged by defense counsel, the State must prove that the officer had justification to stop the car. Otherwise, the entire case may be dismissed.

The next element is proof of operation of the motor vehicle by the defendant. The officer must have sufficient recall to identify the person charged and prove that the person was actually driving the vehicle. Sometimes this can present an extremely interesting defense when an accused is outside of the car, or sleeping in a parked car. If operation cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt at a time when the driver was intoxicated, the case may be dismissed.

The most critical issue in the State's case is proof of intoxication at the time of operation. In order to convict, the State must prove either that the accused was under the influence of alcohol when he or she operated a motor vehicle, or that there was the prohibited level of alcohol in the accused's blood or breath.

A second line of defense is a challenge to the officer's observations of signs of intoxication. As an example, an arresting officer might testify that an accused could not walk a straight line, or properly recite the alphabet or that an accused appeared disoriented. Thorough preparation beginning with the client interview and meetings to review the police reports can lead to a successful challenge of the physical signs of intoxication.

The introduction of a blood or breath test invariably requires a defense attorney to fight back with expert testimony. In order to defeat a chemical test, a forensic scientist or qualified breathalyzer expert must review the discovery, the client's medical and personal history and develop a strategy with counsel to challenge a breathalyzer test or a blood test.

Many cases of drunk driving and crimes involving intoxication can be successfully challenged through thorough careful preparation and the use of experts.

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Joseph J. Rodgers, Chartered
5901 New Jersey Avenue
Wildwood Crest, NJ 08260
Phone: 609-435-3180
Toll Free: 800-514-1164
Fax: 609-729-4917
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Super Lawyers New Jersey Supreme Court | Seal of Superem Court of New Jersey | Certified Attorney National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers | NACDL 1958 ABA | Defending Liberty Pursuing Justice New Jersey State Bar Assocaiton | 1899

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