NJ Appellate Court Reverses DWI Conviction in State v. Jonathan Carambot

State of New Jersey v. Jonathan Carambot

Docket No. A-1228-22

Decided May 30, 2024

Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from his conviction for driving while intoxicated (DWI), N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, following a trial de novo in the Law Division.

On June 10, 2021, officers on patrol observed a vehicle driven by the defendant speeding in the opposite direction. The officers made a U-turn and followed defendant’s vehicle. Officers then observed defendant make an unsafe lane change without signaling and proceed through a red light. Officers subsequently conducted a motor vehicle stop.

When officers approached the vehicle, they observed the defendant sweating profusely, his eyes were watery, his speech was slurred, and he appeared nervous. Due to these observations, defendant was asked to step out of the vehicle and perform field sobriety tests. Defendant either failed or did not follow instructions for each of the field sobriety tests administered by officers. A police sergeant then arrived on scene and administered a second horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test. Defendant failed the test and was taken to the police station. Officers then administered an alcotest on defendant. The result of defendant’s test showed that he had .00 alcohol in his breath. When asked to provide a urine sample, defendant refused. Defendant was ultimately charged with careless driving, making an unsafe lane change, failure to observe a traffic control device, and DWI.

After a trial, the municipal court judge found defendant guilty of all charges. Defendant then appealed his DWI conviction to the Law Division. The Law Division conducted a trial de novo based on the record developed in the municipal court. The court also relied on observations made by the two officers who testified as well as review the body worn camera (BWC) footage. The court determined that there was an insufficient amount of evidence to establish defendant was under the influence of alcohol and that his refusal to submit to a urine sample can’t be used against him. However, the court found that the evidence was sufficient to support a DWI conviction, relying on the observations of the testifying police officers and a review of the BWC footage. The Law Division judge never explicitly stated that it found that defendant was under the influence of drugs, but that was the only possibly basis for a DWI conviction. Defendant then received the same sentence that he received in the municipal court. Defendant once again appealed.

On appeal to the Appellate Division, defendant contended that: 1.) The Law Division erred in finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of DWI where alcohol intoxication was not found or proven, and the finding of alleged drug intoxication was not supported by sufficient independent proof. 2.) The Law Division erred in accepting the conclusions of plaintiff’s witnesses as their testimony was unreliable and did not establish intoxication. 3.) Both the municipal court and Law Division committed error by shifting the burden of proof onto defendant and/or drawing improper inferences.

Under State v. Olenowski (Olenowski II), 255 N.J. 529, 550 (2023), in cases where the State seeks to prove that a defendant was under the influence of a substance other than alcohol, the State must establish that “(1) the defendant was intoxicated[,] and (2) the cause of the intoxication was either narcotics, hallucinogens, or habit-producing drugs.” In Olenowski II, the Court held that DRE testimony could satisfy the modified Daubert criteria for admission, subject to certain limitations.

Ultimately, the Appellate Division held that that impairment from drugs needs to be proven with some independent evidence beyond lay witness’ observations to establish a DWI conviction. Thus, defendant’s DWI conviction and related sentence was reversed and vacated. The court articulated that although officers had probable cause to arrest defendant and bring him to the station and their testimonies concerning defendant’s impairment established that he was in no condition to drive, after defendant took the Alcotest, which reflected that he did not have any alcohol in his blood system, the police could have sought a warrant to compel a urine sample or a blood sample. The court also indicated that the police could have also brought in an officer certified as a DRE to make observations of defendant and corroborate their observations. The court stated that the issue in this case is that the police did not obtain any independent evidence beyond the officers’ observations of defendant.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Municipal Court and Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to DWI defense and appealing DWI convictions. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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