An Alcotest and Field Sobriety Test Are Not Absolutely Necessary to Prove Intent to Operate A Vehicle Under the Influence
Appellate Docket No.: A-3017-19
Decided March 24, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed a conviction of a driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor (DUI) and leaving the scene of an accident after defendant was found outside of his car in a parking lot with the engine running and damage to his car.
In State v. Lyons, police were dispatched to a report of a vehicle striking a parked car several times. The woman on scene reported a description of the vehicle as a grey SUV. The police reported this over the radio. Another detective out on patrol witnessed an SUV driving at night without its lights on then park in a parking lot. Upon receiving the message over the radio, the detective went over to the SUV and found that it matched the description.
The detective saw defendant standing outside of a small gray SUV. Defendant held onto the open driver’s door and appeared to have just finished urinating. The vehicle’s engine was running. Cahill observed defendant’s “fly was undone,” “[h]is pants were wet . . . from urinating,” and “[t]here was a big puddle on the ground
The detective noticed defendant was highly intoxicated. Defendant admitted the vehicle was his and admitted to have 4 to 5 beers. The detective did not perform a road side sobriety nor were the alcotests admissible due to a lack of appropriate certifications. There was damage to the SUV consistent with damage to the parked car.
Defendant was found guilty of DUI and leaving the scene of the accident after a municipal court trial. Defendant requested a trial de novo with the Law Division and the Law Division upheld both convictions. Defendant appealed.
The Appellate Division ruled that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant committed a DUI because defendant intended to drive the vehicle as it was running and he was standing next to it, and the detective observed defendant’s intoxication, smelled alcohol, and defendant admitted to having 4 or 5 beers. The alcotest and field side sobriety were not necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant committed a DUI.
The Appellate Division reversed Defendant’s conviction of leaving the scene of an accident, however, because there was no testimony as to the witnesses who observed damage to the car, there was no proof of the value of the car being $500 or more, which was a required element of the crime.
The importance in this case is understanding what is required for a DUI conviction and elements of a crime. For a DUI conviction, the State just needs to prove that defendant intended to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Although an alcotest and field sobriety test are the most common means of accomplishing this, they are not absolutely necessary, as outlined above. As for charged crimes, the State must prove each and every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to do this for any one of an element will lead to a dismissal. Here, failure to show proof of the value of the property damage led to a dismissal of the charges.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for driving under the influence (DUI) driving while intoxicated (DWI), leaving the scene of an accident, failing to report an accident, all other traffic violations, and all criminal charges. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
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