When you think of New Jersey, its hard not to envision Tony Soprano driving across the bridge and into the sprawling suburban neighborhood that he and the rest of his HBO characters brought to life for so many seasons. But, when it comes to DUI laws, New Jersey is not as entertaining as Tony Soprano might have you believe. In 2005 a new provision, referred to as "John's Law" ratcheted up the penalties for drunk drivers, making it possible for the police to impound a drunk driver's vehicle.
Like other states, New Jersey is tough on those who drive while intoxicated. The recently added "John's Law" is just another illustration. Unlike other states, a DUI arrest in New Jersey only gives rise to a criminal case brought before a trial judge in State Court.
The outcome of the State's case establishes the punishment, fines, and any additional educational measures required to rehabilitate the drunk driver. This means that New Jersey places a great deal of trust in the criminal court system and trusts its judges to dole out fair punishments.
Once the case reaches the courtroom, the prosecution has two possible theories on which it may proceed. The first of these is the per se theory, which determines criminal liability based on the blood alcohol level of the defendant at the time of his DUI arrest. The legal blood alcohol limit is .08%. Anyone whose tests show a blood alcohol level that meets or exceeds this percentage can be found per se guilty.
However, the testing methods used by law enforcement are not fail-safe and the tests, though most often accurate, are not impervious to error. Factors that inhibit the accuracy of the blood alcohol tests include the metabolism of the arrestee, the time of the arrestee's last drink, the method of testing, and the generally accepted accuracy of the testing mechanism. Where one or more problems render specific test results unreliable or highly questionable, a judge will not allow the prosecution to prove guilt using the per se theory. Instead, more evidence must be presented to ensure that a conviction is appropriate.
Where the per se theory is inapplicable or problematic test results occur, the prosecution will proceed on a traditional theory of liability. This common law theory uses subjective evidence to prove the defendant's state at the time of the arrest. The officer who made the arrest may give information on the defendant's overall appearance, driving pattern, speech pattern, and performance on field sobriety tests to establish that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the DUI arrest. If the evidence under the traditional theory convinces the court, the defendant will be found guilty and a DUI will be added to his criminal record.
In addition to a criminal record, a person convicted of DUI in New Jersey an expect up to nearly a thousand dollars in fines and costs in addition to up to thirty days in jail and an alcohol education course with fees and mandatory class time. As always, a person hoping to avoid an expensive, stressful, and potentially embarrassing DUI case is well advised to follow the old failsafe rule: don't drink and drive.
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